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Developing Tools To Fight Childhood Obesity

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

The Department of Health Healthy Hawai‘i Initiative (HHI) and University of Hawai‘i (UH) Department of Pediatrics have developed educational obesity prevention materials to help pediatricians talk to families with children during routine health visits. The materials consist of handouts for families that outline healthy eating habits proven to have an effect on weight and will be piloted at the Kapi’olani Medical Center for Women and Children’s Pediatric Clinic. Physicians have been trained in the use of the curriculum.

A DOH study conducted in 2003 found that almost one-third of the children entering Hawai‘i public schools are either overweight or at risk of becoming overweight. As they grow older, overweight children and adolescents are at increased risk for numerous health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, as well as shorter life expectancies.

An extensive literature review was conducted by Dr. Gina French, Kapi‘olani Pediatric Clinic medical director, to identify key behaviors of healthy families that have shown to be effective for attaining a healthy weight. The project is based on the latest research available and presents user friendly information to families during periodic well child visits. Doctors trained in using the materials share the information with the child’s parent or caregiver during the well child visit, and provide a handout for them to take.

“The doctor’s recommendations consist of age related tips from infancy on and include topics such as breastfeeding, limiting sweet drinks, eating meals together as a family at home and turning off the

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television during meals,” said Dr. Louise Iwaishi, principal investigator for the Pediatric Obesity Prevention Project. “These tips are supportive of healthy eating habits and encourage quality time with the family.”

Research has shown that parents are often their children’s most important role model. If children see their caregivers enjoying healthy foods and being physically active, they are more likely to do the same.

Therefore, the recommendations are aimed at having the whole family develop habits that help prevent overweight. In addition, age appropriate nutrition advice is provided for children ages zero to five.

“The obesity prevention project is an example of trusted people in our community sharing with local families actions they can take to live healthier lives,” stated Health Director Chiyome Fukino, M.D. “Through this partnership we are working on a system change and encourage healthcare centers and physicians to use the materials created.”

The next phase of the project will include creating translated versions of the handouts and posters in Marshallese and Chuukese. In addition, HHI and UH are working on making the curriculum into a permanent course offering at the UH-Manoa John A. Burns School of Medicine.