Active Medicine: How Children's Hospitals Support Weight Management

Born at 10 pounds and 13 ounces, Gigi Eisenstein of Philadelphia had been a robust baby. But when her weight was still outpacing her height at her 6-year check-up, the pediatricianreferred her parents to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. There, in consultations every six weeks or so including a medical evaluation and dietary, behavioral and fitness counseling, the family has learned ways to prepare healthier meals together and squeeze more physical activity into their day. Now Gigi and her sister and parents sub baked zucchini sticks for French fries, eat seconds of vegetables only and walk the dog each night as a family. Gigi, 10, has seen her body mass index drop from 24 to 21. (Nineteen is ideal.) “I used to be the snack mom – I always had something for the girls to eat,” says Sarah Eisenstein, Gigi’s mom. “Now I tell them ‘I know you’re hungry, but you’ll be OK until we get home and make lunch.’ ”

It may seem surprising that families are getting this sort of hands-on help from a children’s hospital. But in recent years many of these institutions have launched comprehensive weight-management programs like the one at CHOP – and it’s help that is sorely needed. Childhood obesity rates have nearly tripled since 1980; overall, nearly 18 percent of children and teens are now in that zone, putting them at risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, sleep apnea and other respiratory problems, and fatty liver disease. “We live in a toxic environment where the easy choices are overwhelmingly bad choices,” says Dr. David Ludwig, an endocrinologist and director of the Optimal Weight for Life, or OWL, program at Boston Children’s Hospital, the country’s oldest weight-management clinic for children and adolescents. “The consequences are grim.”

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