The Chilliwack YMCA is one of 10 B.C. communities offering the latest pilot program offered by the Childhood Obesity Foundation to deal with overweight children and youth: the Healthy Family Living Program is due to start in late September. (Submitted photo)

10 B.C. cities to pilot new program against childhood obesity

Healthy Family Living program being tested in 10 communities, including Chilliwack

While obesity isn’t a new problem, the rate at which it’s affecting children has become so alarming, the B.C. government is pairing up with the Childhood Obesity Foundation to implement province-wide programming to curb unhealthy habits.

Founded in 2004 by a B.C. pediatrician and lawyer who wanted to reduce unhealthy weights in Canadian children, the foundation now works directly with the B.C. Ministry of Health and Provincial Health Services Authority to create the societal shift towards healthy eating and active lifestyles for people of all ages, including our children and youth.

“There is an epidemic of unhealthy weights of the people in North America,” said Dr. Tom Warshawski, who’s a pediatrician and foundation board member.

“In childhood, one in three have an unhealthy weight, or unhealthy weight trajectory,” Warshawski said. “By adulthood, 60 per cent of adults are either overweight or obese, and that’s a result of our habits.”

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This month, Chilliwack joins nine other B.C. communities to become the first in the province to pilot the Family Healthy Living Program, which has set its sights at reducing obesity-related chronic diseases through prevention and education early on.

The program, which is free for participating families, will also be offered in Prince George, Kelowna, Surrey, Burnaby, Vancouver, Campbell River, North Cowichan and Greater Victoria.

“The goal of the program is that people generally have an idea of what they should be doing, but struggle with the doing,” said Warshawski.

“With this free program, we’re hoping to help people (not only) increase their (health) knowledge, but most importantly, make those positive behaviour changes.

“Weight isn’t even mentioned,” he said. “If you get the habits right, the weight will follow. This is about embracing healthy habits for the whole family that can last a life time.”

Based on the previously implemented MEND program, which was harvested from the UK, Warshawski said the Family Healthy Living Program takes best practices from around the world and puts a Canadian spin on them for British Columbians.

Targeted at school-aged children who have a BMI-for-age greater than the 85th percentile, the program is for the entire family, and will cover topics such as grocery shopping and budgeting, physical activity, healthy eating and nutrition, positive parenting practices, and mental health.

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Running for 10 weeks, the program features 20 sessions: a 90-minute in-person session at the Neighbourhood Learning Centre on Wednesdays for the whole family, and a weekly, hour-long session to be completed online by parents at their convenience.

“First off, everyone — parents, children, siblings — meets together, then there are some fun games for the kids while the parents get more information around the topics of the night,” said Warshawski.

“It’s not just about healthy weight, it’s (also) about the mental health of the whole family.”

Warshawski said there are plenty of other things families can do to maintain their health.

“The single most important is eliminating sugary drinks, the pop, the iced tea, the juice. You shouldn’t drink your fruit: you should eat your fruit and drink your water.”

Also, cut back or eliminate processed foods — all the white stuff — and eat as many vegetables as possible at all meals. Breakfast shouldn’t be “sugar-bomb” cereals,as they contribute to weight gain, and last, but not least, eating at home as a family unit.

“But there’s a strong correlation between fast food, or restaurant meals, and unhealthy weight gain,” said Warshawski. “And being as physically active as possible and reducing screen time. That’s really the bulk of what we want people to learn and do.”

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