Living fit: UNM program helps families fight childhood obesity
Lisa Chavez became worried when she noticed the choices she made while coping with stressful family circumstances were starting to affect her daughter’s health.
“I lost my mom in 2013 and when she was in the hospital, we would pick up fast food almost every day,” Chavez says. “I knew it wasn’t healthy, but it’s all I could do when I was caring for my mom along with taking care of my daughter and going to work.”
Her mom had died of obesity-related illness. Now, as her 7-year-old daughter Audrina started to put on an unhealthy amount of weight, she knew it was time for a change. “My choices are her choices,” she says. “She’s so young and so of course she’s going to follow what I do.”
Chavez took her daughter to the University of New Mexico Healthy and Fit Children’s Clinic, a program that provides treatment for children and adolescents with overweight and obesity issues.
The clinic, led by Sylvia Negrete, MD, offers patients a comprehensive, multidisciplinary team of medical, nutritional, behavioral and physical therapy providers as well as access to other pediatric subspecialists.
Negrete, an associate professor of pediatrics in the UNM School of Medicine, saw the need for a program that provided more services and resources for the entire family when it came to preventing and treating childhood obesity. This prompted her to partner the clinic with the Live Fit Family Challenge Program, which is led by a group of nurses and nutritionists.
“I was treating children in the inpatient and outpatient setting, but realized there wasn’t much out there for families outside the clinics,” Negrete says. “There were no affordable services out there to help keep the entire family continually engaged with living healthier lives.”
The Live Fit Family Challenge brings families together for 2 ½ hours each week for nine consecutive weeks to learn about healthy eating and exercise. They gain tips and information from UNM experts in fields such as exercise science and nutrition.
The sessions start with a group exercise activity led by UNM exercise science students and fitness trainers. It’s a perfect opportunity for the families to exercise together and learn that fitness can be a fun activity for the entire family, Negrete says.
Following the exercise activity, experts and students from the UNM Nutrition program prepare and share a healthy meal and recipes with the families. As the families eat, a UNM nutrition expert talks about healthy options the families can try at home and what to look for when grocery shopping.
The program also spends time talking about medical problems associated with overweight and obesity such as Type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, hypertension, high cholesterol and obstructive sleep apnea.
Each family is provided with a binder filled with exercise activities and meal plans to use at home. It includes a section where families can keep track of their progress.
Most notably, the program is bilingual in both English and Spanish and is free of charge to all patients.
Lisa, Audrina and her step sister Rosemarie are now part of the Live Fit Family Challenge. Lisa said that since making healthier choices she has lost 40 pounds and she notices a difference in Audrina as well.
“I really like this program because it’s very family oriented,” said Lisa. “The exercising can be hard, but I want her (Audrina) to be motivated so I do the exercises, too. We motivate each other.”
Kohl’s Cares recently awarded a grant to the UNM Healthy and Fit Children’s Clinic to support future efforts as part of its Kohl’s Healthy Kids NM initiative, http://www.kohlshealthykidsnm.com/.
For more information on the Healthy and Fit Children’s Clinic and the Live Fit Family Challenge Program, visit http://hospitals.unm.edu/mds/unmch/divisions/healthy_and_fit.shtml.