Canada’s First Childhood Obesity Program Targets Unhealthy Lifestyles
Posted Nov 27 2012 8:51pm
From The Globe and Mail…..
Neema Martelly has trouble sleeping through the night – and it has nothing to do with monsters hiding under her bed. At just four years of age, she suffers from a disorder more typical of middle-aged overweight men: sleep apnea, a symptom of obesity.
Luckily for Neema, she lives within reach of what is believed to be Canada’s first obesity treatment program tailored specifically for children under six. Through it, she’s discovered a love for twirling around practising ballet, learned to try the broccoli, carrots and (reluctantly) lettuce on her dinner plate, and found that dancing the hokey-pokey on her living-room floor brings more laughs than whiling away the evening on the couch.
Neema is among six young children and their families who are part of a unique collaboration between the Hospital for Sick Children and Toronto Public Health that focuses on getting an often-overlooked age group onto a healthier track. What started as intensive group sessions with health professionals over the summer has continued with regular meet-ups at the hospital, and, most importantly, a monthly home visit from a public health nurse to advise parents on healthy behaviours and monitor progress.
As many as 14 per cent of Canadian children between the ages of three and five are overweight, and another 6 per cent are obese – frightening statistics, especially when considering the future health-care burden. There is a likelihood that without strong interventions these young children will remain obese into adulthood, and, as a result, are at increased risk for a host of health problems, including diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
Doctors are discovering that tackling the obesity epidemic requires zeroing in on Neema’s age group – and perhaps even starting much earlier, in utero. It’s not without controversy: Few parents recognize their pudgy child has a weight issue, even if he or she is obese, studies show. Changing those attitudes requires programs that fixate less on obesity and more on healthy-active living, doctors say.
“I’ve never seen a health topic be so engaging to physicians and the community at large,” said Catherine Birken, a pediatrician at Sick Kids who spearheaded the pilot program with some provincial funding. “The cardiologists are now focusing on early childhood. Everyone is turning their attention to early childhood. The evidence shows that the earlier you start helping families develop healthy behaviour, the more likely those behaviours will persist through the child’s life.”