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St. Mary Medical Center Launches KidShape 2.0

Comprehensive program helps kids and families eat healthfully and adopt a wellness outlook to last a lifetime

LANGHORNE, Pa., March 30, 2012 – Nearly nine years ago, well ahead of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” national campaign against childhood obesity, Community Health Services at St. Mary Medical Center launched KidShape in the Neshaminy School District. The national program came with an interactive agenda designed to help children who were identified as being overweight become healthier by making better food choices and in being more active.

Over the next few years, St. Mary expanded KidShape into nine Bucks County school districts – Bensalem, Bristol Borough, Bristol Township, Centennial, Central Bucks, Council Rock, Morrisville, Neshaminy, and Pennsbury. A revitalized KidShape 2.0 highlights this year’s programming. The partnership of Community Health Services at St. Mary with school districts, school nurses, physicians, local farms, businesses and townships, and dedicated families has helped improve the wellness of hundreds of children in Bucks County.

KidShape 2.0 is the latest fun, family-centered, children’s wellness and weight-management program from St. Mary Medical Center that focuses on nutritional education and lifestyle changes using the most enlightening tools and techniques. The upgraded curriculum has adopted the new ADA dietary guidelines and philosophy, adding information about vitamin D and sleep, and coping with stress. And if you think a focus on reducing stress may be a little much for kids ages 6 to 12 in the KidShape population, registered nurse Joann Dorr, manager of the “Families Living Well” initiative at St. Mary, offers this insight. “We all know and understand that overweight kids have long been targets for bullying” says Dorr. “What is especially hard for this generation is that with the internet and Facebook, the bullying does NOT end when they go home. So part of our program is helping them identify their support team of family and friends to keep them safe and healthy.”

What differentiates KidShape 2.0 from other childhood obesity programs is that it engages the entire family. Barbara Adons, BSN, RN, Director of St. Mary Community Health Services, said it was this family-centered model that appealed to St. Mary Medical Center, as well as the school districts, the American Heart Association, and the American Cancer Society that offered input in 2005 into the selection of KidShape as the preferred weight-management program to best meet the needs of children in Bucks County. “We knew we needed to provide parents and their children with effective resources and education to develop healthier and happier lifestyles,” says Adons.

In addition, a family-based program serves to improve the health of the entire family which ultimately supports the weight management goals of each child.

“Childhood obesity is a very complicated issue. It’s about a lot more than food,” says Betsy Adler Harrison, whose 11-year-old son has been with the KidShape program for two and a half years. A social worker by profession, she has always taken pride in having a “healthy house” and a “healthy kitchen.” However, the number of obese children in the United States has tripled since 1980 and eating healthy can be challenging with today’s abundance of prepared foods and quick take-out options. It is estimated that 70 percent of students eat one fast-food meal per day, not including a school lunch.1 KidShape professionals believe that improving family eating habits is key to addressing the national epidemic of childhood obesity.

A child in a KidShape 2.0 program must have at least one parent and preferably the whole family attend meetings with him or her. This family support is crucial in learning about nutrition, and adopting healthy eating habits at home. For Sue Weiner, whose 9 year-old daughter Lara, is a KidShape participant, it is the family experience that makes a difference. “It changed our lives,” says Weiner. “It’s nice to do something together, but even more that Lara is excited to attend the sessions and has a new awareness about what she chooses to eat. It’s education, but in a fun way.” Sue also says she has made KidShape elements more a part of her own life as she and Lara now spend more time cooking together and deciding on menu and grocery selections.

Sue and Lara Weiner are among local celebrities on the video “Food for Thought: Children’s Health in Bucks County” that St. Mary produced with the League of Women Voters of Bucks County. In it, Lara charmingly describes KidShape as “a little program we do on Tuesdays to teach you to eat healthy” and also gives you her recipe for “grape cupcakes,” a personal-favorite birthday-party treat.

And while an important message of KidShape 2.0 is that it doesn’t have to be difficult to eat healthfully, program manager Dorr says making it as easy and comfortable for kids to form bonds and for families to become connected and enjoy new lifestyles is what she likes most about the program.

The goal of KidShape is not to help kids lose weight, but to help kids get healthy and stay healthy. “Being overweight puts kids are at risk for diabetes, heart disease, joint and muscle problems and even emotional issues, including depression,” said Dorr. “The program greatly benefits them personally, but it also addresses a public health issue.” Dorr and Adons are excited about premiering a new outcomes measurement tool that St. Mary has been working to develop with staff from the University of St. Louis School of Public Health. The research-based survey tool will help evaluate awareness of knowledge, behavior, choices, nutrition, physical activity and self-esteem related to childhood obesity, and identify needs to help medical professionals work more effectively together to address the health issue. The pilot evaluation currently being used measures some standards not looked at in previous KidShape studies, such as the availability of healthy foods in the home and kid’s taste preferences.

“Using evidence-based measures to look at the impact of our program validates our initiatives in the community,” says Adons.

Each KidShape 2.0 meeting in the 8-session course lasts two hours and fifteen minutes and has a weekly theme. Typically there is a food demonstration with taste-testing encouraged, and a family activity. There is time to share and discuss topics of concern, such as bullying and issues of confidence and self-esteem. Parents meet with nutritionists and behavior health professionals, while the kids go “work out.” Physical activity is all about moving and having fun. Betsy Adler Harrison relates that her son has found that there are physical activities, like “Capture the Flag,” that he really enjoys. She likes seeing him enjoy an environment where movement has become fun and not a chore, and the children are not teased or ostracized. “Now he likes to take gym class at school,” she said.

Individualized meal plans, recipe exchanges and goal setting for the week ahead also are part of the tools for success that families use to change behaviors, eat healthier, move more, and feel better.

The last night of the eight-week session features a graduation party called KidShape Café where everyone brings a healthy dish, shares recipes, and celebrates together. Follow up sessions for the graduates are scheduled throughout the year and additional KidShape 2.0 sessions are available to older children.

Who Qualifies for KidShape 2.0?

Children have to be at or above the 85th percentile for their body mass index (BMI) to qualify for the program. BMI is a common measure expressing the relationship (or ratio) of weight-to-height. A child may be referred to the program by a physician, school nurse, teacher, parent, or friend.

Classes vary in size, with up to 11 families per class. Last year KidShape had 163 participants (65 families with 92 children). Currently four programs are running, with new sessions to begin in the spring. Each KidShape 2.0 program has a $50 materials fee. Scholarships are available.

Additional Resources

For more information on KidShape 2.0, visit www.StMaryHealthcare.org/Kidshape. 1. Statistics come from quotes in the video, “Food for Thought; Children’s Health in Bucks County,” which can be can be viewed online at http://vimeo.com/20987069.

“Food for Thought” was conceived and prepared by League of Women Voters of Bucks County (LWVBC). The video and discussion/resource guide were made possible by funding provided by St. Mary Medical Center.

The informative discussion guide is available at http://www.palwv.org/bucksco/Food%20for%20Thought%20discussion%20guide%20FINAL.pdf