Childhood obesity focus of new clinic

Nanaimo Regional General Hospital staff are enlisting the help of a fitness instructor and volunteer coaches to help tackle childhood obesity.

Pacific Blue Cross’s Community Connection Health Foundation has donated $11,000 to support the new program proposed by staff in the hospital’s Paediatric Ambulatory Health Clinic.

The money will hire a fitness instructor, who will supervise a team of volunteer “activity coaches” from Vancouver Island University’s sport, health and physical education program to work with families on individually tailored exercise plans.

Hospital staff estimate the project, a partnership between the hospital, VIU and the city, charged with providing the fitness instructor, will help about 40 families over the course of a year.

Glynis Marks, a psychologist with the clinic, said the goal is to see if the extra service results in helping children and their families make long-term lifestyle changes that lead to better weight management.

Marks and a dietitian work with families of children who have been referred for obesity for an average of 6-8 weeks – her role as psychologist is to help with emotional issues that would get in the way of a family’s ability to make lifestyle changes – but she envisions the activity coaches working with the family for as long as six months, giving them support for a longer period of time.

After the family has seen the dietitian and psychologist, Marks said the fitness instructor will consult with medical staff about the specific needs of the family and any medical restrictions and then a volunteer coach will be assigned to work with them.

“The research on treatment of pediatric obesity makes clear that we have to work with the whole family,” said Marks. “We can’t just look at nutrition.”

Activities will be appropriate for the age, physical condition and interests of the child, focusing on fun things that can be done with their families.

“A lot of them are actually anxious about doing exercise – they get out of breath or their knees hurt,” said Marks. “They need a gradual introduction to the idea that moving my body is fun.”

Any gains the child experiences with the psychologist and the dietitian could be lost without connections to community resources for keeping active, she added.

Suzanne Samborski, the city’s senior manager of recreation and culture, said there are plenty of opportunities to get active in the city’s parks, trails and facilities, but if someone hasn’t accessed these resources before, someone pointing you in the right direction could be helpful.

“Sometimes you need a place to start,” she said.

Brad Reimer, a professor in VIU’s department of sport, health and physical education, said the partnership gives his students a chance to apply the lessons learned in class to the real world.

“One of our goals is to provide opportunities for our students to get practical experience in this field of study,” he said, adding that the experience also looks good on grad school applications.

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