Fit Youth

Youngsters and their families learn to combat obesity

March 2011

In the 1970s, about 5 percent of U.S. children were considered overweight or obese. That figure has more than tripled to 17 percent, putting children at greater risk for diabetes, high blood pressure and other medical conditions.

That alarming upward trend has not escaped the notice of people and institutions in a position to do something about it.

First Lady Michelle Obama made childhood obesity one of her signature priorities, kicking off the national Let’s Move initiative in early 2010. Five years before that, Cleveland Clinic launched its Fit Youth program, which teaches healthy habits to children and their parents.

Like the first lady’s initiative, Fit Youth is about putting children on the path to a healthier future. Established in 2005 and directed by Eileen Kennedy, PhD, a pediatric psychologist, the program engages children ages 7-16 years who are at or above 95 percent body mass index (BMI) for their age.

For 12 weeks, the youngsters and their parents attend weekly 90-minute sessions. An interdisciplinary team of medical professionals works collaboratively to teach the children how to lose weight and help their families resolve issues that interfere with weight loss:

  • A psychologist shows families how to set goals and change harmful habits to create healthy new ones.
  • A registered dietitian explains the new food guide pyramid, defines portion control, shows the group how to read labels, and offers guidance on eating out and healthy snacking.
  • An exercise physiologist teaches the four components of exercise: aerobic, strength, flexibility and balance in the context of fun games and activities.
  • A pediatrician with a special interest in weight management addresses the medical complications and health risks of excess weight.
Healthy New Habits

In addition to helping children lose weight, the program helps them develop new eating and exercise habits, teaches them to communicate effectively about their weight control and shows families how to make better decisions to improve eating and exercise habits.

Through group sessions, families discover that they face similar issues, creating a support network to assist the youngsters in successfully completing the program.

Between meetings, each child keeps a daily food journal and records all physical activity they perform. Each week, they have homework – tasks such as reading food labels – to share and discuss with their parents.

During the weekly sessions, each child’s record is updated with current weight and exercise time. Children are also encouraged to talk about their progress and to share any difficulties they experience in changing their eating or exercise habits.

Fit Youth is offered at six locations throughout the Cleveland Clinic health system: Beachwood Family Health & Surgery Center, Fairview Wellness Center, Independence Family Health Center, Strongsville Family Health & Surgery Center, Willoughby Hills Family Health Center and Wooster Family Health & Surgery Center.

To make a gift supporting the Fit Youth program or any area of Cleveland Clinic, visit our secure giving site or call Institutional Relations and Development at 216.444.1245 or toll-free at 800.223.2273, ext. 41245.

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