The Obesity Action Coalition estimates that children of overweight parents have an 80% chance of being overweight themselves. At first glance, the uninformed individual might easily attribute this statistic to genetic predisposition. Upon further inspection, however, it is evident that the correlation is not within the genetic makeup, but in the family environment itself. Genetics actually only account for a very small portion of a weight-related familial connection. Food and eating habits as well as physical and/or sedentary activities, are often modeled by the parents and acted out by those in the family system. While this research and information may be readily available, it can be overwhelming and daunting to determine how to turn around an “unhealthy family ship.” It is not uncommon for many of us to feel alone and trapped by our lives of busy-ness and paralyzed to act on well-meaning information before us.
It is not uncommon for individuals to misinterpret such sedentary activities as
“binge-watching TV.” The rise in technological advancements has created this problem of too much “screen time.” Activity can now be replaced by iPads, iPhones, and computers that do the work of entertaining, so individuals do not have to do the work of being active and entertaining themselves. It is research and information such as this that lends support for a local program offered by BJC HealthCare available through St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
Sensing and responding to a need, BJC HealthCare has made a program available to the community known as Head to Toe, and is defined by St. Louis Children’s Hospital as a “weight management program that helps children, teens and their parents learn to make healthier lifestyle choices.”
Originally, the program began with only two families meeting with a Physical Therapist and Dietician in 2001. The program continued to grow, eventually incorporating paid staff members and a detailed program. Today, this program involves attendance at 17 classes, 90 minutes each, which address various topics and issues to help foster a healthier lifestyle. Topics covered in these classes include: exercise, body image and self-esteem, communication within the family, how to cope with stress, and other health and nutrition topics.
Children and teens ages 8-17 may participate in the program if assistance is needed in areas of weight management, nutrition education, and the pursuit of a healthier lifestyle to reduce the risk of obesity. Assessments are administered to both the parents and children at the start and completion of the program. Children in the program also complete a fitness assessment, which encompasses “curl-ups, sit and reach, modified push-ups, and a cardiovascular endurance test.” Active participation in Head to Toe by children, the parents, and applicable teens is expected.
Participants have the added benefit of meeting for a free orientation time with the Head to Toe Team prior to the start of the sessions. This orientation time is required, and must have taken place before the class begins. During this session, families will be able to get their schedules, receive further clarity on class expectations, and secure their place in an upcoming session. This connection time allows for a greater opportunity for both the team and participating families to get to know each other a little better.
The Head to Toe Team is comprised of three major players or disciplines: A registered Dietician to help the family recognize healthy food choices, a Social Worker to promote self-confidence in the family system, and an Exercise Expert who will orchestrate interactive games in session, as well as teach the families how to become more active. To register for an informative orientation session, you may call: (314) 454-KIDS (5437).
To eliminate confusion, Head to Toe is very clear on the expectations for the participants in the program. Participants are to come to session ready to explore the realm of fitness in the appropriate shoes and clothes needed to do so. Session families should be prepared to join in! Everyone is expected to contribute to the game and activities, unless medical restrictions prevent them from doing so. Members are expected to exercise their brain muscle by remaining open and thoughtful in the Head to Toe process. In addition, the heart needs to be open, and possess the courage ready to make an ongoing lifestyle change.
Classes are available in both the Spring and Fall at assorted locations. For now, all classes are held at BJC at The Commons, 4249 Clayton Ave., Conference Room 101, St. Louis, MO 63110. As Head to Toe has grown, location availability has broadened to Boone County Hospital in Columbia, MO, Cerner Medical in Kansas City, MO, Parkland Hospital in Farmington, MO and Progress West Hospital in O’Fallon, MO. The cost for all 17 sessions as well as the assistance of the Head to Toe team, is $60. Insurance will not cover the cost of this service. However, it is possible that financial assistance, scholarships, or sibling discounts may be available for families needing additional funding to participate in the program. As an added bonus, payment reimbursement is available for the families that complete all 17 classes.
The educational family fun does not have to end once the 17 sessions are completed. Mini-meetings are open to the whole family upon completion of the program to further encourage athletic movement and nutritional eating. Even the St. Louis Children’s Hospital website holds resources on exercise and nutrition, should one become forgetful or lost along the healthy journey. The Obesity Action Coalition offers that building a healthier, more active family does not have to be an overwhelming task. Setting clear and manageable family goals may go a long way in creating a sustainable and healthy family environment.
The Obesity Action Coalition acknowledges that change is difficult. We humans are creatures of habit and will happily dodge practices and behaviors that are unknown to us, even if the new practices are beneficial to our overall functioning and quality of life. Fear is a motivator that leads many to resist change; fear often drives a once sound support system to pull away or react in unexpected ways. In addition, it is helpful to be aware that family members and others expected to be a support system may not be in favor of healthy changes. They may be fearful that these actions require them to change as well, or that once the objectives are achieved, their support will no longer be necessary. Nevertheless, it is possible to get resistant family and friends on board with the help of insight from the Head to Toe team, as well as a commitment and dedication to this courageous process.
Celebrations are in order for the small victories and the achievement of momentous family goals. This program may not be for the faint of heart, but it is for those who desire for the heartbeat of their family system to be strong. Head to Toe provides a well thought out and constructed program that offers social supports and practical tools to combat the obesity epidemic, and suggests that a positive correlation can exist between the family environment and the overall health of its members. For those interested in the program, individuals with questions, or for more information, please contact Jill Schnurbusch at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (314)286-2139.