Hospital youth program creates the foundation for lifelong wellness

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With one in three students in Peel Region identified as overweight or obese, and with above-average rates of type 2 diabetes amongst some of its youngest community members, Trillium Health Partners (THP) knew that a youth focused wellness program was a vital part of advancing its mission of a new kind of health care for a healthier community. That’s why in September 2015, THP launched KidFit, an innovative program to help ensure some of its youngest patients get, and stay, healthy and fit.

KidFit is a holistic prevention and treatment program that customizes treatment plans to fit patients’ needs. Its motto is  Small Steps, Lasting Change, Lifelong Wellness, and its goal is helping  families make positive, realistic changes that improve overall health and wellbeing. Rather than focusing solely on weight, KidFit addresses social functioning, family-focused change, and other areas that directly affect its patients’ ability to feel good, get motivated, and make positive changes.

Patient experience has been a top priority in building the KidFit program. “The best thing about this program is that it’s not just about the numbers on the scale,” says one parent. “It’s about awareness and motivation. My daughter has come to enjoy physical activity – she has a ton of energy and just wants to get up and move. That’s a change that will last for a life-time.”

 

Adam, Tina and their 8-year old son, Sam, have participated in the KidFit program since its beginning.* “What I like about KidFit is that I can connect with other parents for support, and get advice on how they’ve managed similar situations to what I face with Sam, with their kids. The weekly parent meeting worked really great because we could share practical strategies. For example, my son wouldn’t eat mixed green salad, but he liked lettuce. So, I introduced other vegetables slowly into his salad – first 2, then 5 then eventually 10 leaves of spinach each time. He’s eating different vegetables now, and likes mixed green salad,” Adam says.  “We’ve learned so much through the KidFit program. We read food labels now, watch our portion sizes, and plan for snacks instead of stopping for sugary or fatty fast foods. The  communication workshops for parents were especially helpful, and have helped me and my wife be more consistent in our approach; for example, Sam can’t come to both of us separately anymore and ask for a cookie.”

KidFit’s Group Programming includes classes for parents on meal planning and making grocery lists, the role of parents in feeding and regular meal patterns, coping with difficult emotions, and others. For teens, group workshops include learning about emotions, exercise and activity, and self-esteem and communication. KidFit also offers mixed classes attended by both parents and their children, discussing topics such as breakfast and morning routines, the medical effects of sugar, and various focus groups designed to facilitate ongoing feedback. Through KidFit, parents, children and teens also learn about different opportunities to be active in their communities:  in May of 2016, 59 KidFit patients and families participated in the Mississauga Marathon’s 2km Fun Walk/Run.

“As a Child Psychologist, a large part my role is to consider the way our program influences how our young patients think and feel about themselves and their futures. A really important part of KidFit is helping kids, teens, and their caregivers recognize personal strengths, accept their unique selves, and make healthful, sustainable positive changes. KidFit parents have told me that they see their children becoming more self-confident, happier, and more energetic since starting the program. Other parents have expressed a new sense hope for their children’s future. From a mental health perspective, these are the things that tell us we are truly making a difference,” says Dr. Brooke Halpert, Clinical and Health Psychologist, Trillium Health Partners’ KidFit program.

“We have seen improvements in emotional health including self-esteem and self-confidence, and physical health including cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels, and liver function tests, and weight stabilization, and have seen families being active and preparing meals together,” says Dr. Ian Zenlea, paediatric endocrinologist and physician lead for THP’s KidFit program.

 

Since its launch in September of 2015, KidFit has received over 270 referrals. As KidFit continues to offer more programming in the community, it continues to strengthen its partnerships with and within the City of Mississauga. Dianne Knox, KidFit’s social worker, now sits on the Peel Region Parenting Collective, a multi-disciplinary committee that discusses ways in which parenting affects multiple aspects of children’s lives, and explores opportunities for system change. Supporting children and youth in our community to be as healthy as they can be is a huge part of laying a healthy foundation for future generations and is a significant part of Trillium Health Partners’ commitment to creating a new kind of health care for a healthier community.

*To protect individual privacy some names and identifying details have been changed.

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