A pilot project aiming to combat childhood obesity is launching at two locations in Surrey this fall, and “it’s all about habits, not weight.”
That’s according to Dr. Tom Warshawski, pediatrician and chair of the Childhood Obesity Foundation that is running the Family Healthy Living Program open to children aged 8 to 12 and their families in 10 B.C. communities this year.
The program, funded by the provincial government, is an effort to combat the alarming rates of obesity seen in children.
“We know as a baseline that roughly one in three children have an unhealthy weight trajectory,” said Warshawski. “This weight trajectory carries on into adulthood, unless something is done.
“We know that in adults, if you are overweight at age 40, on average, you lose three years off your life span, and if you’re obese you lose six years,” he added, noting the health concerns are as serious as those who smoke.
Obesity is linked to diabetes, heart disease, cancer and stroke, said Warshawski.
“We know it’s really important to teach children and their families about healthy eating, and healthy living,” he added. “Children don’t outgrow their habits unless they are changed in the family context. Now’s the time when children are impressionable, capable of great learning, and it’s a great time to make changes in their habits.”
Surrey is a good fit for such a program, said Warshawski, because it has a huge youth population.
“It’s one of the youngest communities in Canada, never mind just B.C.,” he added.
“A high birth rate. And I think in Surrey with the Indo-Canadian population as well, and recent immigrants, it can be tough adopting new dietary options. And unfortunately, a lot of our dietary options aren’t great,” Warshawski said, pointing to pop and Slurpee’s.
“Newer Canadians can be somewhat naive. What we have here in North America is great but when it comes to what we eat, it’s not that great.”
The two 10-week pilot programs in Surrey — one that is soon launching at the Tong Louie YMCA and another at the Surrey Sport and Leisure Complex — focus on healthy lifestyle habits for the whole family.
And, it’s free.
“There will be one session at a site, per week, and then there’s an hour of homework to be done by the parents whenever they can fit it in,” said Warshawski. “We’re looking for a minimum of eight families (per location) and can go up to 15.”
Weekly sessions will include a games played together, then the parents and kids will break off.
“The parents stay and the kids go play some fun games, and get a little bit of healthy eating messaging. Then come back altogether to round up learnings from the day and reinforce things, sum it up,” Warshawski explained.
“So a lot about healthy eating, a lot about how to be physically active in a fun way, about how to have family meals together, cooking and playing together, and a lot of positive body imaging,” he added, noting there are a lot of unhealthy and unattainable body images in the media that children see.
“A lot of kids feel bad about that, there’s a lot of fat shaming out there. We’re not about that. We’re all about feeling good about yourself,” while working on creating healthy habits.
Meal time, said Warshawski, is not just about nutritional wellness, but mental as well.
“It’s an opportunity for parents and kids to sit down and talk about their day. Kids don’t always spill their guts. It’s the times when you least expect it, and if you set up meal time as a clear time to talk about things, it just goes so far.”
This pilot is the successor to a “Mend” program that ran from 2013-17.
“It wasn’t quite a good fit for B.C.,” said Warshawski. “So the province asked us to develop a made-in-B.C. program that I dare say is an improvement on the Mend program in a few ways.”
That program, he said, tended to talk about weight a lot.
“We don’t need to do that,” Warshawski remarked. “There’s no gain in talking about that, and people are sensitive about it. It’s really about the habits.”
In all, the pilot programs are being offered in 10 B.C. communities this fall, and Warshawski said the hope is to make it available in up to 30 communities in the future.
“The families and their children are going to help us identify what really works well, and what areas of the program need fine-tuning,” he said.
For more information about the program, and how to register, visit familyhealthyliving.ca.