Government touts program for tackling issue of childhood obesity

More support available to help B.C. children achieve a healthy weight

  • Apr. 7, 2013 4:00 p.m.
BC Ministry of Health

BC Ministry of Health

Press release from the BC Ministry of Health

VANCOUVER – Obese and overweight children and their families in British Columbia are being offered more support with the launch of a new provincial initiative that encourages healthy and active lifestyles.

The Childhood Healthy Weights Intervention Initiative will expand existing services and offer new services throughout British Columbia to ensure overweight or obese children and families have access to medical, nutritional and psychological supports, as well as healthy eating and physical activity sessions.

“Childhood obesity is becoming an epidemic across the country, including British Columbia,” said Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid. “That is why our government is rolling out a new provincial program to support children through families engaging in healthy eating and active living, which will benefit both families and our health system.”

The initiative includes:

* Expanding the Shapedown BC program, currently offered by the BC Children’s Hospital, to all health authorities over the next two years. This program will provide medical, nutritional and psychological supports for obese children aged six to 17 years.

* Launching a new provincial program, Mind, Exercise, Nutrition, Do It! (MEND) that will provide free healthy lifestyle learning and activity sessions for overweight children aged five to seven and seven to 13 years.

* Providing enhanced nutrition coaching by pediatric dietitians through Dietitian Services at HealthLink BC to parents who seek out weight management coaching for their children by contacting 8-1-1.

* Continuing the delivery of a Physical Activity Line that provides telephone and online support for families.

Through the Provincial Health Services Authority, an initial investment of $6 million was provided in 2011-12. A further investment of $2 million is being provided to bring the total to $8 million for the Childhood Obesity Foundation to plan, implement and evaluate the initiative.

“Obesity linked to chronic diseases – such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer – is a massive burden on the lives of British Columbians and their families as well as on our health care system,” said Dr. Tom Warshawski, chair of the Childhood Obesity Foundation. “Evidence shows that a healthy start begins in childhood.”

Since 2006, BC Children’s Hospital has run the Shapedown BC program and a resource centre in Vancouver. Approximately 1,000 families have been referred and 700 have completed the existing program offered through BC Children’s Hospital. Within two years the program will be available in each health authority and it is estimated the program will serve up to 350 families over this time.

“Shapedown BC is about so much more than weight. It is about developing a healthy relationship between parent and child, and opening the channel of communication to talk positively about eating and activity,” said Dr. Mary Hinchliffe, medical director, Shapedown BC.

In British Columbia, about 51,000 children (seven per cent) aged two to 17 years are classified as obese and 138,500 (20 per cent) as overweight. Obesity rates in children have almost tripled in the last 25 years and obesity-related illnesses cost the British Columbia health system an estimated $380 million dollars annually.

“We were getting tired of feeling like food was a struggle. We had to make some changes for the better-and the weight loss was secondary to the whole program,” said Carlos Leon, whose child participated in Shapedown BC.

The new MEND program will be hosted by the YMCA and BC Recreation and Parks Association member recreation departments with assistance from the Childhood Obesity Foundation. Families with overweight children aged 5-13 can attend ten weeks of group physical activity sessions delivered by recreation staff. The sessions will also include classes on nutrition. The program will be available in 15 communities by 2014 and will serve up to 900 families.

“We’re really excited to see MEND come to British Columbia,” said Craig Sheather, YMCA’s vice president of community engagement. “This is a program that really helps families live their healthiest lives.”

“By bringing MEND to British Columbians, we’re taking a big step towards reducing childhood obesity,” said Suzanne Strutt, CEO of BC Recreation and Parks Association. “The program helps families learn how simple and beneficial being active can be.”

Dietitian Services at HealthLink BC, available by calling 8-1-1, are also expanding to include nutrition coaching from pediatric dietitians. This service will be complemented by the existing Physical Activity Line, available at 1 877 725-1149.

Childhood Healthy Weights Intervention Initiative supports Healthy Families BC, the government’s public-health strategy that focuses on leadership, prevention and health improvement for British Columbian families and their communities.