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Power to help kids stay at a healthy weight


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Darci, Megan, Mark and Drew Gjerstad of Coon Rapids have adopted a healthful lifestyle thanks to the Allina Health familyPOWER program.

It’s no secret that obesity in children and teenagers is a major problem. Nearly one in three U.S. kids ages 10 to 17 was overweight or obese in 2007.

However, creative initiatives like the familyPOWER program, a collaboration between Allina Health and HealthPartners, is making a big difference for many families. One year into a three-year pilot, the program currently serves about 30 northwest metro area families. It provides coaches, tips and ways to help families track how they are making their lives healthier.

Power to help kids

Pediatricians at Allina Medical Clinic — Coon Rapids and HealthPartners clinics in Coon Rapids and Andover can refer a family to the free, voluntary program when a child between ages 5 to 11 has a BMI (body mass index) of 95 percent or higher.

Darci, Mark, Drew and Megan Gjerstad of Coon Rapids joined familyPOWER in 2012 after Drew’s well visit at age 8.

“Drew was overweight and aware that he needed to find ways to get back POWER to help kids stay at a healthy weight on track,” said Darci Gjerstad. She said the family had relied on quick and easy meals like mac and cheese or hot dogs. Drew was a quieter, less active child, she said, while Megan, 10, “is kind of the opposite and can’t sit still.”

The family had an in-home assessment with Caitlin Borgert- Spaniol, MA, a coach who supports HealthPartners and Allina Health patients and is the familyPOWER program manager. Borgert-Spaniol set up a schedule of coaching phone calls. She introduced a powerful “5-2-1-0” tool and helped the Gjerstads develop a daily plan that’s a good guideline for any family: Eat five or more servings of fruit and veggies, limit screen time to two hours or less, get at least one hour of active play and just about eliminate sugary drinks.

The Gjerstads took the advice to heart. Now the whole family goes on walks and bike rides. They play tennis and basketball and plan to participate in 5K runs. Megan and Drew said familyPOWER is “fun.” Drew asks Eat 5 or more fruits and veggies a day. View 2 hours or less of screen time a day. Move 1 or more hour in active play a day. Drink 0 sugary drinks a day. Darci, Megan, Mark and Drew Gjerstad of Coon Rapids have adopted a healthful lifestyle thanks to the Allina Health familyPOWER program. for apples when he snacks, and Megan likes the shift from hot dogs to foods like tuna, oranges and strawberries.

“We eat fruits and veggies for snacks and every night at dinner,” Darci said. “If I forget, the kids remind me.”

Borgert-Spaniol said families like the Gjerstads are on their way to making long-term lifestyle changes. “This is not a diet program,” she said. “It takes a lot of patience, and it’s so important to empower and educate the parents.”

Marjorie Sexton, MD, a pediatrician at Allina Medical Clinic — Coon Rapids, said: “If we can prevent diabetes in a child, we will prevent health issues for a whole lifetime.”

Content Source: Healthy Communities magazine, fall 2013
Review Date: 8/9/2013
Reviewed By: Dr. Marjorie Sexton, a pediatrician at Allina Medical Clinic - Coon Rapids

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