BUFFALO, N.Y. Â– Obesity in childhood can create serious compromises to physical and mental health and longevity, but parents who want to encourage healthier eating face significant challenges.
Now, a free, weight-loss program developed at the University at Buffalo, one of the nation’s only programs proven to achieve and maintain long term (10 years) weight loss in children is enrolling Western New York families. The program is funded by the National Institutes of Health.
To be eligible, children must be overweight and between 8 and 12 years of age, considered the best age to intervene in creating healthy eating habits; they also must have at least one parent who is overweight.
Nearly 1 in 3 children in the US are now overweight or obese, says Leonard H. Epstein, PhD, SUNY Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and professor and director of the UB program. “The number has doubled in the last 20 years and it keeps increasing. At the same time, nearly 2 out of 3 adults are overweight and 1 of 3 adults in the US is also obese.”
Clearly, engaging in behaviors that encourage healthy eating and more physical activity is a tougher challenge than it used to be, Epstein continues. “Children today are faced with many more opportunities for unhealthy eating than they were just twenty years ago. There are many more high-calorie foods available. Portion sizes in restaurants are larger now and children have more opportunities to be sedentary than they used to have.”
In spite of these challenges, UB’s Buffalo Childhood Weight Control program has shown consistent success. That’s because the UB program is one of the nation’s very few childhood obesity programs that is evidence-based — that is, based on the best available evidence from peer-reviewed scientific data. Those data, generated by prominent obesity researchers at UB and elsewhere, have long shown that treatment programs like UB’s, involving both parent and child, are the single most effective way to achieve healthy weight in children.
During the last 10-year study, the percentage of overweight children who had participated in the UB program and were able to maintain a healthy weight at 10-year followup was fifty percent, far higher than the usual percentage, which is typically ten percent or less.
Epstein explains that for children in a weight-loss program, the key indicator is the child’s “percent overweight,” which means how much more the child weighs than what is considered average for his or her height. For example, if a child should weigh 100 pounds and they actually weigh 150 pounds, they are considered 50% overweight.
“Children in our program see an average percent overweight decrease of 22.6% after treatment, with the most successful children showing percent overweight decrease of 27.6%,” says Epstein, “Parents see an average loss of 22.9 pounds and 38.7 pounds following treatment for our most successful parents.
“And, because we are simultaneously treating obese parents and children with the same program, the benefits extend to the rest of the family, too,” he continues. “The biggest challenge to obesity treatment is not weight loss, but long-term weight maintenance and that’s a key success of our program.”
The UB program’s success over the years has resulted in a total of more than $20 million in funding from the NIH, allowing expansion of the program to more families in Western New York.
“Our program is not a quick-fix, it’s a proven, family-based lifestyle intervention,” says Epstein. “We are providing our families with tools for a lifetime of good health. We are teaching them how to change their lifestyles.”
The “Buffalo Childhood Weight Control program” is designed to boost physical activity and healthy eating for overweight children and parents using its famous Traffic Light Diet, developed by Epstein. In addition to learning healthy eating behaviors, children and parents in the UB program will learn behavioral changes that will encourage them to engage more in healthy behaviors, such as increased physical activity and less in unhealthy ones.
Families who are accepted into the program must attend weekly appointments for the first 12 weeks, then biweekly and monthly appointments.
Epstein also is a faculty member in the UB School of Public Health and Health Professions departments of Social and Preventive Medicine, Community Health and Health Behavior, and Exercise and Nutrition Sciences.
For more information about enrolling in the UB program, please call 716-829-6697 or write to firstname.lastname@example.org