What Parents Need to Know About Their Child’s Weight

Today, one in three children can be classified as overweight or obese, which puts them at risk for serious health problems. Denise Woodall-Ruff, MD, Director of the Healthy Weight & Wellness Center at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, discusses what parents can do now to keep their child at a healthy weight and get them on the road to a healthy life.

Why should I be concerned about my child's weight?

Childhood obesity is a serious — and growing — problem in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in young adults in the past 30 years. We are not talking about a few extra pounds, but rather a condition that can have a negative effect on a child’s overall health. Effects include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, joint pain and sleep apnea. In addition to the physical effects, childhood obesity is related to a number of emotional/psychological effects, such as stigmatization, poor self-esteem, depression and anxiety. And when obese children grow up to be obese adults, the consequences escalate. In addition to all the effects experienced in childhood, obese adults are at risk for heart disease, stroke, several types of cancer, infertility, osteoarthritis and other issues.

What's the solution?

Ideally, children should develop healthy lifestyle habits early that include healthy eating and daily physical activity in order to maintain a healthy weight as they grow. However, children who are already overweight or obese may need additional guidance to get them back on a healthy track. That’s why Stony Brook Children’s developed the Health Weight & Wellness Center. It offers a medically supervised, evidence-based program designed to help children and teens lose weight safely while preparing them to successfully maintain a healthy weight as adults.

What is the approach of the Healthy Weight & Wellness Center?

We take a comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach that is individualized for the needs of patients. We also understand that for children and young adults, things need to be fun. We not only ensure that kids enjoy the program and it is 100 percent positive, but also that they are supported by their families. 

After a detailed intake evaluation with appropriate medical screenings for health issues common to obesity, we create a customized plan that revolves around the specific needs of each child. Both the child and the family work with a team led by a board-certified pediatrician, which includes credentialed experts in all aspects of obesity: exercise, nutrition, medical, surgical, psychological and social issues. If medical conditions are suspected, we consult with Stony Brook Children’s subspecialists as needed. Throughout the program, we continue to monitor the child’s progress, make the necessary adjustments and perform periodic re-evaluations.

What kind of commitment does the program require?

Most patients meet monthly for six months with our registered dietitians. Together, they review the patient’s diet, analyze nutrient intake and develop an individualized eating plan. We also work with the family to provide education on meal planning, label reading, food choices and recipe moderation. Our physical therapists recommend an activity program designed to burn more calories, build strength and increase endurance. Patients also participate in age-appropriate biweekly motivational FitU sessions, which are conducted by a registered dietitian and a physical therapist. Sessions combine medically supervised nutrition counseling, behavioral therapy and exercise along with family support. In addition, we offer behavior modification and support through the Krasner Psychological Center. For older adolescents, we also offer bariatric surgery if our physicians feel that is an option.

The Healthy Weight & Wellness Center requires a physician referral. We are happy to answer your questions or refer you to a physician if you don’t have one. Call (631) 444-2730 or (631) 444-KIDS. 


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All health and health-related information contained in this article is intended to be general and/or educational in nature and should not be used as a substitute for a visit with a healthcare professional for help, diagnosis, guidance, and treatment. The information is intended to offer only general information for individuals to discuss with their healthcare provider. It is not intended to constitute a medical diagnosis or treatment or endorsement of any particular test, treatment, procedure, service, etc. Reliance on information provided is at the user's risk. Your healthcare provider should be consulted regarding matters concerning the medical condition, treatment, and needs of you and your family. Stony Brook University/SUNY is an affirmative action, equal opportunity educator and employer.