A Community Partnership That Helps Kids Get Fit
Fit Kids puts overweight children and their families on the right track with nutrition and exercise
Ten-year-old Ryan Margiloff of Danbury reached a turning point in his life when he decided to go swimming shirtless. He had just completed Fit Kids Pediatric Nutrition and Fitness Program, a 12-week, multi-disciplinary program sponsored by Western Connecticut Health Network, the Regional YMCA, and the Family & Children's Aid Center, to help prevent childhood obesity and diabetes.
"Ryan would never take his shirt off because he was too embarrassed about being overweight," said his mother, Alysia Margiloff. "But one day at the pool, after he had lost weight and finished the Fit Kids program, he said: 'Mommy, I'm taking my shirt off.' We gave each other a high five. We both felt so proud."
The Fit Kids program includes nutrition education, behavior support and physical education. Children enter the program via a referral from their physician for an appointment with JoAnn Ahern, APRN, at the Danbury Pediatric Diabetes/Endocrinology Program at the Children's Health and Wellness Center of Danbury Hospital. JoAnn meets with the child and parent at the start and at the completion of the 12 weeks, and determines if they are a good candidate for the program.
"The family needs to be truly committed to completing the full program and making the necessary changes," said JoAnn. "Otherwise, we won't see an improvement in health." Enrollment is limited to about 12 kids per 12-week session.
Once enrolled in Fit Kids, the child and a parent attend weekly 90-minute sessions at the Family and Children's Aid Center in Danbury. For kids, the time is divided between 45-minutes of physical activity with a fitness professional from the YMCA; basic nutrition education from a YMCA certified health educator; and participation in the Family and Children's Aid Play Makers Program, with activities to help improve confidence and self-worth.
Meanwhile, parents attend separate sessions in the building, where they learn about fitness and nutrition - how to increase activity levels, make healthier food choices, read labels, control portion sizes and more.
Ryan had joined Fit Kids in February 2013 after gaining 22 pounds in one year. After blood work, his pediatrician determined he was on the borderline of Type 2 diabetes and referred him to the Danbury Pediatric Diabetes/Endocrinology Program. JoAnn thought he was a perfect candidate for Fit Kids. "I could tell that Ryan and his mother were determined to succeed and they would stick with it."
At first, the nutrition program was challenging for Ryan and his family. "I'm a single mom and I work full time so I often opted for quick meals," said Alysia. Her daughter, Hannah, 8, and Ryan were picky eaters and the family often settled on a few carb-loaded meals.
But once enrolled in Fit Kids, the family adopted a very different diet. "Overnight, we cut out white flour entirely and drastically cut down on sugar," said Alysia. "We eliminated white-breaded chicken nuggets, bagels and white pasta. Little switches helped too, like going from ice cream to frozen yogurt when the kids deserved a treat." she said. They bought only foods made with whole wheat and grains, curbed carbs overall, and reduced portion sizes.
"We all lost weight and felt better. Ryan's stomachaches, which he suffered from daily, disappeared. It was like a miracle. Also, he was moody before, and that changed almost immediately," said Alysia.
For Ryan, the hardest part was dealing with food available at school and friends' houses. "I was eating stuff that my friends never heard of - like soy and seaweed products," he said.
Fortunately, his friends were supportive. "They'd ask me what I learned in the program, and they also told me that I looked good," said Ryan.
Ryan enjoyed the rigorous exercise part of Fit Kids. "The first hour we'd do fitness like rock climbing," he said. "It was a lot of fun. Then we wrote down things we were going to do to change our lifestyle." In addition to the weekly session, Ryan was also swimming and started playing tennis, and he got into an extra gym class at his school.
Ryan is the picture of Fit Kids success. His insulin and cholesterol levels had normalized when he returned to JoAnn for a follow-up. In fact, Ryan's entire life has improved. He used to be picked last for a team because he was a slow runner. "Now I'm picked because I'm thinner and quicker," he said. Last year he only wore sweatpants, now he wants skinny jeans. According to his mom, he feels good, smiles more and he's more confident.
Ryan is out of the danger zone for diabetes now, but Alysia remains diligent because he's in the high percentile for weight for his height and age. The family has grown more comfortable with their new lifestyle. "Fit Kids only met once a week, but it changed everything. It has had a lasting impact on our family," said Alysia.
"Educating our families and young children will ultimately lead to a significant reduction in the co-morbidities associated with obesity," said Dr. Raul Arguello, Chairman of Pediatrics at Danbury Hospital. "We are happy to be partners with the community in being part of the solution."
Childhood Obesity and its Risks
"Childhood obesity is the primary health care problem that our children face and will continue to face," said Raul Arguello, M.D., Chairman, Department of Pediatrics at Danbury Hospital. "Our Fit Kids program is a first step in engaging our community on a path of wellness."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years. In 2010, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese. Overweight youth are at greater risk for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, pre-diabetes and diabetes, bone and joint problems, sleep apnea and social stigmatization.
Participation in the Fit Kids Program starts with a physician referral and an initial appointment with The Children's Health and Wellness Center, an affiliate of Western Connecticut Health Network, on 79 Sandpit Rd in Danbury; Phone: 203-790-5437.
For more information about the program in general, contact Lisa O'Connor at the Regional YMCA in Brookfield, at 203-775-4444.
About the "New" Western Connecticut Health Network
Western Connecticut Health Network is the region's premier, patient-centered health care organization serving residents of Western Connecticut and adjacent New York. With this recent affiliation, the organization is now anchored by three nationally recognized hospitals, Danbury Hospital, New Milford Hospital and Norwalk Hospital, as well as their affiliated organizations. In addition to the three hospitals, the continuum of care offered includes numerous medical practices and sub-specialties across the region, home health care services, a nationally renowned biomedical research institute, the Western Connecticut Health Network Foundation, the Norwalk Hospital Foundation and other affiliates. For more information, visit TheNewWCHN.org. Share your comments with us at Facebook.com/DanburyHospital; Facebook.com/NewMilfordHospital and/or Facebook.com/NorwalkHospital.