Stepping up to the plate for good health

February 13, 2014

Weight Management Program offers support for the whole family

Story and photos by Heather Kipling

Sometimes it is easier said than done to develop, let alone maintain, healthy habits for the whole family. However, weight management plays a key role in overall health no matter what our age.

Almost a third of Canadian children and adolescents were overweight or obese in 2007 according to Statistics Canada. With childhood obesity a growing concern, there has been a renewed focus on programs and resources – like the Pediatric Weight Management Program – that can help families with weight management issues get on the path to healthy living.

“Through the program, clients have access to a dietitian who supports families to plan for healthy and nutritious eating habits for children,” says Heidi Olstad, Nutrition and Food Services Manager, with Alberta Health Services Central Zone. “It is a very collaborative approach to giving them the tools and supports they may need.

Heidi Olstad, Alberta Health Services Central Zone Nutrition and Food Services Manager, left, and registered dietitian Kathleen Smith are part of the“In addition to our dietitians, physicians, other health professionals, community agencies and local Primary Care Networks can be involved, depending on what resources will support families with the changes they are trying to make.”

The Pediatric Weight Management Program provides service to families with children between ages two and 17. Follow-up and support can last from six to 24 months, depending on how families are doing.

“This program supports families in matching a plan to their stage of change by meeting them where they are at,” says registered dietitian Jaime Anderson, who offers the program at the Vegreville Community Health Centre.

“One of the goals of the Pediatric Weight Management Program is to help parents add tools to their toolbox that they can use to help their own health and their children’s health,” says registered dietitian Anita Eggink.

“The ongoing support available to families is a key component of this program.”

The program also aims to improve children’s growth, overall health and well-being by fostering healthy eating, physical activity, and sleep habits, while promoting positive self-esteem and supportive relationships. Children who are overweight or obese may have a poorer quality of life. Physically, they may be unable to keep up with friends playing games, or may have to face weight-based bullying, which can influence their body image and hamper their self-esteem.

In turn, it can also impact their academic performance. Children who are overweight often become overweight adults and are at higher risk of diseases like heart disease, stroke, and Type 2 diabetes.

“For children and teens, this is the time when they are developing habits they will have for the rest of their lives,” says Eggink, who is also a certified Wellness Coach and facilitates the program in Camrose.“Building healthy habits is much more positive than trying to break less healthy habits down the road. Finding ways to lead a healthier lifestyle now will also reduce risk for diseases like diabetes and heart disease in the future.

“This might not be something children think of now, but their future self will thank them.”

Access to the program is through a physician referral. During the initial consultation, program staff will discuss where a family is at in terms of nutrition and exercise, as well as contributing factors such as sleep patterns and habits which all contribute to their overall health.

Families can access the program in person in Camrose, Red Deer, Vegreville, and Vermilion but it is also available through Telehealth, making it accessible across the zone while reducing travel for families in outlying communities.

“Weight is a sensitive topic for many people and it isn’t easy to discuss,” says Olstad. “Obesity is a complex condition influenced not just by lifestyle behaviours, but also by environmental and genetic factors.

“Weight management care is not about how a person looks, but about their overall health and well-being. And we hear from a lot of families that this program has made a difference.”

For more information on the Pediatric Weight Management Program, visit: