When Children Are Overweight: Real and Lasting Solutions

March is National Nutrition Month. And to mark it, pediatric cardiologist Dr. Peter Morelli, shares his best advice for helping children and teens deal with obesity and the subsequent health problems it can cause.

How severe are the problems of overweight and obesity with children and teens?
Very severe. In fact, obesity is almost at epidemic proportions. It has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years nationwide. The problem with obesity is not just overweight; it is the health problems that it leads to, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, joint pain, sleep apnea, depression and anxiety. Obese children often have poor self-esteem and can experience stigmatization among their peers. Clearly, it is a serious problem.

What are the best ways to address this problem?
There are many approaches, but often the most effective are lifestyle based, medically supervised programs that help children change behaviors over time. Programs must be positive, highly individualized, multidisciplinary and family friendly. Research shows that programs have a higher success rate when one or more parents remain involved.

What is the approach of Stony Brook’s Healthy Weight and Wellnes Center?
Our program is evidence-based, comprehensive and multidisciplinary, drawing on all the factors that will help a child successfully take and keep weight off. It starts with a medical assessment and monitoring, and continues with ongoing assessments. Our team is led by a board-certified pediatrician and includes registered dietitians, a physical therapist, medical assistants and psychologists. If additional medical conditions are suspected, we bring in the appropriate pediatric subspecialist/s at Stony Brook Children’s for additional support. At the heart of the program are nutrition and activity level changes. At the center, most patients meet for six months with our dietitians to review current diet and develop an individualized eating plan. We also work to educate the family on meal planning, label reading, food choices and recipe modifications.

How do you handle exercise?
We work to improve the patient’s overall fitness level and calorie burning activity through Fit Kids for Life. This 10-week program meets twice weekly and includes instruction on how to make gradual changes in lifestyle habits, safe aerobic exercise and strength training under the supervision of personal trainers. It also includes nutrition counseling, dietary assessments and food demonstrations because nutrition and activity are so entwined in the weight loss process. We ask that one parent attend the sessions with their child. 

Are there other options?
Stony Brook also offers behavior modification and support through the Krasner Psychological Center. We assess the patient’s and family’s readiness to change, and offer individual and group sessions supporting behavior and lifestyle modifications. In addition, Stony Brook offers a bariatric surgical option for ages 12 and older that can be tailored to their individual weight loss strategy. The bariatric program is accredited at the highest level by the Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Accreditation and Quality Improvement Program (MBSAQIP) to work with adolescents as well as adults. A safe and effective option, 99 percent of the procedures are performed laparoscopically. We are ranked among the top centers nationally for bariatric surgery patient outcomes reported to the MBSAQIP.

What’s the bottom line?
The bottom line is that obese children grow into obese adults, who can develop a long list of life-threatening illnesses or conditions that severely impair quality of life. When you get at this problem early, healthy children can grow into healthy adults. At Stony Brook, we provide a highly individualized approach along with group activities that can help children develop a healthy lifestyle. A physician referral is required to enter the program. If you don’t have a physician, we are happy to refer you to one.

For more information about the Healthy Weight and Wellness Center, click here.

For more information about Stony Brook Children’s, call (631) 444-KIDS.