October 18, 2013
JEFFERSON COUNTY – The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recognizes that childhood obesity is a serious issue, so much so that National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month was created, which is a time to raise awareness and advocate for positive change in the fight against obesity in children. To help tackle the childhood obesity issue in Jefferson County, Fort HealthCare Pediatrics has been implementing a proprietary FIT Program for kids since 2012. At the center of the program is Heidi Jennrich, APNP of the Fort HealthCare Internal Medicine & Pediatrics clinic in Fort Atkinson.
The CDC confirms that although some progress has been seen lately, childhood obesity is still a major public health problem. Approximately 12 percent of children in the United States are obese, and certain groups of children are more greatly affected. Children who are overweight or obese as preschoolers are more likely than normal weight children to be overweight or obese as adults and suffer lifelong physical problems such as high cholesterol, heart disease, high blood sugar, asthma, and mental health problems.
Focusing on the most at-risk children, the FIT Program concentrates on slowing and stopping the progression of childhood obesity in the clinic setting. The program centers upon nutrition education, physical activity and lifestyle modifications for the whole family. Jennrich started the program after identifying the dire need for intervention with some of her patients that had body mass index (BMI) numbers that were way too high for their age.
Jennrich states, “The BMI for a lot of the kids I was seeing for their annual Well Child exams were significantly elevated. And in most cases, a high BMI also means elevated blood sugar levels and other indicators for poor health.”
After one year of data collection and analysis on 53 young people in the area that participated in Jennrich’s program, the FIT Program proves to be successful. Jennrich is excited to report that “Twenty-six of my 53 kids improved their BMIs versus just maintaining their current weight. Some examples of the kinds of results we’re experiencing include a 17 year old boy who lost 24-1/2 pounds in 10 months, and a 10 year old girl who maintained her weight over the course of nine months. She continued to get taller, but didn’t gain weight. As a result, her BMI dropped into a more healthy range. I have been working with children as young as three or four years old as well as kids up into their teenage years - including high school athletes.”
She continues, “The weight loss that is seen with some of the kids in the FIT Program is important, because those children – as with the 17 year old boy I just mentioned – were already showing risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes, which can be a life-long health problem if not dealt with early enough.”
The calculations for a child’s BMI are much different than that of an adult, and take into account the child’s gender, activity level and other factors for their age group. Where a child falls on the growth chart is shared with them at every annual Well Child visit with their primary care doctor. Children that have benefitted from the FIT Program so far were identified during their annual checkups at Fort HealthCare Internal Medicine & Pediatrics.
At a first FIT Program appointment, Jennrich conducts a comprehensive family interview to evaluate the child in the context of their home environment and to be sure that the goals she helps the family set can be attained. Labs are drawn and reviewed, including blood sugar and cholesterol levels. A plan is put in place with the family, and then the child continues to report back to Jennrich in the clinic at regular intervals to check their progress and provide additional support and education if needed.
Children in the program continue to grow and typically maintain (not lose) their weight, and as a result of them growing taller but not gaining weight, their body mass index (BMI) begins to decrease. BMI is a ratio of height compared to weight, and the higher the BMI, the greater risk there is for many health problems. For those children who are able to actively lose weight during the program, the health benefits are realized much sooner.
Jennrich emphasizes, “The goals I help set with the family are based on their child’s age and what is appropriate for them – I do NOT put them on a diet plan. Our first goal is typically to try to make a few changes in the daily routine with respect to eating or moving around more, to see if we can manage to not gain any weight in a month’s time. After that month is up, we try adding a few more goals to achieve. A lot of our discussion is really about what kinds of better choices can be made compared to the child’s current lifestyle and habits. The more conscious I can help make them of their choices and habits, the more engaged and motivated they are for making positive changes on their own.”
Jennrich’s background is in school nursing, and the school setting is where she first saw the need for intervention with children. She is very aware that programs and resources exist within the children’s communities, but her philosophy is that real change begins at home. It is her goal to help provide the tools, education and motivation that’s needed to help children and their families make important improvements together, so children can be as healthy and as happy as possible.
Due to the success of the pilot program, FIT has begun accepting physician referrals for children in need of specialized care plans that focus on maintaining a healthy weight. The child’s progress and reports on care are coordinated with the child’s primary care doctor. Some insurance plans may help cover the costs of program participation, but Fort HealthCare makes it a priority to care for all individuals regardless of their ability to pay. The Fort HealthCare Pediatrics clinic staff can assist with inquiries about the FIT Program. The clinic is located at 500 McMillen Street in Fort Atkinson, and appointments can be made by calling (920) 563-5571.
Fort HealthCare Pediatrics specializes in care just for kids. The medical professionals at Fort HealthCare Internal Medicine & Pediatrics guide your family to total health through prevention, education and medical intervention, if needed. They are committed to meeting your expectations for service, access, efficiency and trust. Internal Medicine & Pediatrics is part of Fort HealthCare’s Fort Medical Group network of clinics. Visit FortHealthCare.com/HealthyKids to learn more.