Tipping the scales for health

The Endocrine & Diabetes Unit at BC Children’s Hospital, like other pediatric hospitals, has seen an alarming increase in the proportion of youth newly diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes (T2D). In 1991, there were less than five patients being treated for Impaired Glucose Tolerance and T2D; today the clinic follows over 100 youth.

Clearly the abundance of information regarding good nutrition was not enough; someone needed to teach patients and families how to apply this information in their daily lifestyles.

Children’s is addressing this need with three programs: Healthy Buddies, Shapedown BC and Cooking for your Life!

Healthy Buddies is a unique, child-centred, school-based health promotion program targeting attitudes and behaviours about body image, nutrition, and physical activity. “School is a natural place for this teaching and learning to occur,” said Dr. Sue Stock, a physician with the endocrine and diabetes clinic at Children’s and co-founder of the program with elementary school teacher Valerie Ryden.

Healthy Buddies is based on three equally important health themes: “Move Your Body”, “Fuel Your Body”, and “Love Your Body”; older to younger peer teams (buddies) are established to enhance learning. The 21-week program fits within a school year and can easily be incorporated into existing elementary school curricula. In addition to physical activity, Healthy Buddies addresses numerous learning outcomes including visual arts, life and career planning and social responsibility.

A pilot study was conducted on the Sunshine Coast from 2002 to 2004, resulting in significant improvements in students’ health such as an overall reduction in body mass index and blood pressure, as well as improved healthy living knowledge and behaviours. Based on this success and with a public health and primary disease prevention grant from the Provincial Health Services Authority, Healthy Buddies is now expanding into forty schools across B.C.

Shapedown BC takes a completely different approach with no diet involved. The program builds on the strength of the family by supporting changes that nurture healthy eating and active lifestyles.

“Shapedown BC is a weight management program that’s been around for over 20 years in the U.S.,” said Dr. Mary Hinchliffe, the family physician with the program. “It works because we address those factors that may be the root of the patient’s poor behavior regarding food and physical activity.”

“Shapedown BC helps parents to sharpen both their nurturing and limit-setting skills to curb their child’s emotional overeating and how much time they spend doing passive activities like watching TV or sitting in front of a computer. Our experience is that the children and youth take more responsibility for their food intake and activity levels, and the result is that they feel happier and safer.”

Cooking for your Life! also recognizes that what a young patient wants to eat is what the rest of the family is eating. This four week program, initially developed by the Canadian Diabetes Association for adults, was modified and piloted with youth between 11 and 18 years old who were recruited from the Children’s Endocrinology & Diabetes Type 2 Diabetes Clinic, and included their family members. Each session consists of three cooking classes and a Shop Smart Tour. “We felt that to help our patients, we had to involve their immediate family,” said Dr. Dina Panagiotopoulos. “Our goal is to have the whole family adopt a healthier lifestyle by developing practical cooking and shopping skills.”

Participants apply what they learn about good nutrition when they cook together in the classroom. Topics of discussion include strategies for setting goals, modifying recipes for fat, fibre and sugar content, reading labels, planning meals and how to include more fruit and vegetables in your diet.

“We know children and youth don’t want to be different and they don’t want to be treated as if they are different,” said Dr. Ralph Rothstein, acting Head of the Children’s Endocrinology & Diabetes Clinic. “The best thing about these three programs is that they provide options for patient families. Patients can work as a team with their family or their peers to adopt the healthier lifestyles they need to avoid the serious consequences linked to childhood obesity.”

To learn more about the Healthy Buddies program, e-mail info@healthybuddies.ca or visit www.healthybuddies.ca.

For information about Shapedown BC visit www.bcchildrens.ca/Services/SpecializedPediatrics/default.html

To get more information on Cooking for your Life! contact Dr. Panagiotopoulos at dpanagiotopoulos@cw.bc.ca.

BC Children’s Hospital, an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority, provides expert care for the province’s most seriously ill or injured children, including newborns and adolescents. For more information please visit www.bcchildrens.ca.