Parents of Obese Kids Focus of New Program

By Justina Reichel
Justina Reichel
Justina Reichel
May 14, 2013 Updated: May 14, 2013

A new government-funded program aimed at tackling the ever-growing problem of childhood obesity will put the focus on changing the parent’s behaviour rather than that of the child.

Ottawa’s Bariatric Medical Institute (BMI) recently announced it has been granted $1.8 million in provincial funding for its “Family Reset” program—a year-long plan that trains parents of obese children how to “reset” their health habits in the home.

Instead of treating the obese child directly, the program gives parents six months of unlimited access to registered dietitians, social workers, personal trainers, and physicians, who will provide guidance on changing habits and attitudes in order to create long-term healthy lifestyles.

The initial six-month training is then followed by six more months of careful follow-up with the same team.

“We’ll be working hard to ensure that parents don’t in fact download guilt or blame onto their children, but rather work with us to improve their entire family’s healthy home environments—hopefully without the child ever being aware of the intervention,” family doctor and BMI founder Yoni Freedhoff says on his website.

Starting at the end of June, the program will be available to children aged 13 and younger whose weights put them in the 85th percentile or higher—in other words, the top 15 percent of the heaviest children in their age group.

While children themselves won’t be “treated” for their weight, Feedhoff says, they will receive group classes with a social worker that focuses on mental and social health and well-being.

The highlights of the Family Reset program will include regular advice from physicians and six months of unlimited counselling from a registered dietitian, behaviourist, and exercise specialist who will work on family health, parenting, nutrition, healthy active living and the cultivation of healthy attitudes surrounding weight and body image.

In addition, all parents who themselves are overweight or obese will be provided with BMI’s existing six-month behavioural weight management program.

Group classes will be given to children, led by a specialized social worker/behaviourist with sessions focusing on self-esteem, anti-bullying, body image and stereotypes, depression, anxiety, and anger management.

There will be no emphasis or discussion on weight at these meetings aside from how weight might play into the emotions and issues being discussed.

A group class for parents on mental health issues will also be provided, along with 10 hours of one-on-one therapy with a clinical psychologist for parents struggling with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, aimed at improving those parents’ interactions with their children.

Group cooking classes will also be on offer for all parents, designed to teach basic cooking and meal preparation skills. There will also be monthly group fitness outings for the whole family led by exercise specialists.

The pilot program will run for three years and aims to support 375 Ottawa families, while alleviating the current burden on the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario’s R.E.A.L. program for children with obesity—which has a year-long wait list and is only eligible for children in the 95th weight percentile.

The news comes months after a series of recommendations were released by a panel of experts assembled by the Ontario Health Ministry, aimed at helping cut childhood obesity rates in the province by 20 percent in five years.