Program Helps Kids and Their Parents Handle Overweight Issues

Dr. Patrick Kendell recommends easy-to-follow steps to his young patients dealing with weight issues

May 7, 2015 — Dr. Patrick Kendell had just finished a consultation with a frustrated mom. At the end of the visit, the family physician recalls, she turned to her son. “It’s not just me telling you,” she admonished her sixth-grade son. “Now it’s the doctor telling you to exercise and make some changes in your life.”

Weight and lifestyle are topics Dr. Kendell brings up at every well-child visit or scout or sports physical. That’s because health trends for American children are alarming, he said. In the last 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control, childhood obesity has more than doubled. In 1980, for instance, 7% of children aged 6-11 were overweight. In 2012, that increase for the same age group was 18%.

An overweight kid has to endure more than heckling at school, said Dr. Kendell. They’re at risk for all sorts of medical sinkholes, such as sleep apnea and asthma and, when they’re older, pre-diabetes, stroke and osteoarthritis.

The 5-4-3-2-1 Go! program was created by the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children ( 5-4-3-2-1 Go!® is a registered trademark and Copyright © 2004 Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

Unfortunately, busy parents aren’t sure where to start. The USDA’s provides helpful ratios on how much protein vs how much bread. But how, exactly, to incorporate those findings into a family plan — especially, how to set goals for a family seeking to help an overweight child?

During his family practice residency in Boise, Idaho, Dr. Kendell was introduced to a program that basically lays out the steps.

The 5-4-3-2-1 Go! program gives parents an easy-to-follow platform. It goes like this:
▸ 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day
▸ 4 servings of water a day
▸ 3 servings of low-fat dairy a day
▸ 2 hours or less of screen time a day (includes television, video games, phones and tablets)
▸ 1 or more hours of physical activity a day

Facing an epidemic of obesity in its schools, the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children created the program several years ago. Independent research (published in the American Journal of Health Behavior shows that when parents understand the formula, they are inspired to follow through.

“These are healthy behaviors,” said Dr. Kendell, whose family practice is located at Tanner Clinic Layton. “It addresses the overall wellness of kids, but it is specifically helpful for obesity and weight loss.”

For instance, unlike most healthy-eating programs, 5-4-3-2-1 Go! advises drinking adequate water. That’s important for an overweight child. “You don’t want to drink your calories,” he says.

The physician also appreciates the program’s meet-them-halfway approach. Screen time is set at two hours.

And as for fitness, the daily program requires an hour or more of activity — anything, Dr. Kendell says, that is “up and out of the couch.”

Hiking, bicycling, skipping, skateboarding and trampoline-jumping all fit the bill. And the physician likes to spend time with his own four kids playing school games as a family. Hopscotch, jump rope, basketball plus, he adds, “We love four-square.”

He believes that obesity is often an issue of environment and, as such, requires that everyone within a family combine forces. “The whole family needs to be active and healthy,” he says. “I even tell all my adult patients that as well.”

Dr. Kendell suggests that families make a point of doing physical activities together, he said. Instead of visiting a movie theater, try a hike. Make a game or contest out of pedometers or the many free apps that trace your diet and activities.

With summer coming up, he adds, “Swimming is a great way to stay active.”