Lifestyle the focus of new health program

A new Island Health pilot program aims to help teens and children create healthier lifestyles

Helping youngsters reach healthier numbers on the weigh scale requires more than lessons in eating right – it takes behaviour intervention.

That’s the word of professionals behind a new pilot program that’s helping teens and children get healthier one good habit at a time.

“It’s a program where teens and parents of young children and families are learning how to engage in healthy behaviour that increase the likelihood they won’t have to think about their weight down the road,” said Dr. Glynis Marks, program coordinator for the Island Health Central Island Healthy Weights Program. “It’s the start of a lifelong journey.”

The Central Island Healthy Weights Program launched 12 months ago as a potential provincial solution to preventing future weight-related issues and health care costs.

It’s not the usual program, according to advocates.

Despite the moniker, the free 10-week program doesn’t encourage families to do weigh-ins or focus on shedding pounds. It’s all about addressing the whole person from the emotional to the physical, introducing youngsters to a peer support network and removing barriers to healthy lifestyles, including access to recreation programs.

A family doctor and pediatrician have teamed up with a dietician, exercise specialist and psychologist to work with families on building new habits and accessing aid where it’s needed, from snack ideas to free activity passes.

Forty families have taken part in the initiative so far, which currently only takes in teens and children who struggle to maintain a healthy weight. A second intake will happen this April.

“We don’t see ourselves as a magic solution but … as a way of helping families become more conscious of what is going on in the bigger picture,” Marks said, adding parents learn to set limits for screen time and give teenagers greater responsibility to make healthy choices.

“It’s also a way of removing some of the guilt and blame from any individual. It’s not just what you eat and what you do, there’s a lot of what’s in our world that leads us to this situation where it’s easier to be unhealthy than healthy.”

Youngsters have to be challenged with keeping their weight at a healthy level to get into the program, but once there, the focus shifts to managing stress and emotions, eating right and having fun with different physical activities.  The goal is all about giving families, children and teens the tools to live healthier lifestyles, said Dr. Derek Poteryko, a member of the healthy weights team.

After 10 weeks of practising good behaviour, it starts to become habit, he said.

“This is new medicine,” he said. “It’s something we’ve … always wanted.”

Marks said the team-approach is important. For years people have tried in isolation to help people tackle weight and obesity, which is too simple, she said.

“We know that both obesity/overweight and health-related behaviour changes are really complex issues and there isn’t one way of addressing it or helping people make changes … so the skills required, the resources that are most helpful, don’t lie in one discipline or profession,” she said.

The program, which is being monitored by the province as a demonstration project, is for children from Qualicum to Duncan, ranging from six to 17 years old.

To get more information about the program or a referral form, call 250-755-7955 or email CIHealthyWeights@viha.ca.

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