Low-income kids in Syracuse get help with weight control
Low-income kids in Syracuse get help with weight controlJanuary 21, 2005Cynthia J. Moritzcjmoritz@syr.edu
When a child is overweight, it is often difficult for the parents to deal with the problem effectively. If the family has a low income, there are added factors that can make the problem even more difficult. For example, many low-income parents spend long hours at work, making them unavailable to supervise their children’s diets; if parents are trying to stretch their grocery dollars, they may buy the food they can get most cheaply, not what is healthiest.
That’s where Committed to Kids (CTK) can help. CTK is an initiative of the nutrition program in Syracuse University’s College for Human Services and Health Programs that aims to help low-income kids from ages 7-17 who are overweight. It is currently operating at three Syracuse schools: Dr. Weeks and Dr. King elementary schools and Shea Middle School.
Children are referred to the program by their pediatricians or school-based health clinics. The first step is measurement of such factors as height, weight and percentage of body fat; children then begin participating in a 12-week intervention program.
A basic of the program is nutrition information and advice. The children are taught such skills as how to plan balanced meals, control portion sizes and eat mindfully. The teaching is done at weekly sessions by graduate nutrition students. Each session includes a healthy snack.
“One of the things we try to get the kids to do is ‘think their drink,’ says program director and SU Associate Professor of Nutrition Kay Stearns Bruening. “That means considering the consequences of drinking, for example, an entire Coke.” A big challenge, she adds, is to get children to stop eating with the television on. “You don’t pay attention to how much you’re eating when you’re watching TV,” she says.
Children are sent home with something for their parents to read each week. Low-income parents usually can’t actually attend the sessions, but “if parents don’t help at home, it won’t work,” Bruening says.
The program also has an exercise component, run by students from the School of Education’s exercise science program, and a behavioral component, run by students from HSHP’s marriage and family therapy program.
CTK was first developed for use with middle-class children; there is some evidence that child weight intervention programs do not work as well with low-income children. “But we are having some success,” Bruening says.
Nutrition graduate student Mary Lou Plante says she has learned about the special challenges of working with low-income children. “There need to be lot more of us doing this kind of work,” she says.
Other community collaborators for the two-year program include SUNY Upstate Pediatrics, Boys & Girls Clubs of Syracuse, and the Syracuse Community Health Center’s school-based health clinics. Funding has been provided by Indirect Vitamin Purchasters Antitrust Litigation Settlement of the Office of the New York State Attorney General.