Program Helps Kids Overcome Obesity

Program Helps Kids Overcome Obesity

Dr. Patrice Tyson specializes in treating childhood obesity.

For pediatric gastroenterologist Patrice Tyson, MD, helping children overcome obesity is a personal mission.

“I struggled with weight as a kid, so I understand what these kids experience,” says Dr. Tyson. “These are the foundation years that set the tone for the next generation of adults.”

An important part of her practice is directing Our Lifestyles, Our Lives, a free program provided by Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital to fight Louisiana’s epidemic of childhood obesity.

Nationally, obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Louisiana ranks as the fourth most obese state in the country.

Treating obesity is important for a child’s overall health because being overweight frequently leads to other complications such as diabetes, hypertension, sleep apnea, joint problems and psychosocial issues. It’s a serious issue affecting Louisiana’s youth that requires not only lifestyle changes, but often healthcare intervention.

Dr. Tyson works with families to help children live healthier lives. She points to recent research that showed parents—and even pediatricians—often don’t recognize or intervene when children are overweight. According to the journal Childhood Obesity published in June 2015, only 5 percent of parents with an overweight child realized the child was overweight. The vast majority described their clinically overweight child was “just right.”

The Fall 2015 Our Lifestyles, Our Lives program graduates smile with Dr. Tyson.

“We encourage parents to ask their child’s pediatrician: is my child overweight or underweight?” Dr. Tyson says.

She also advise parents to ask to review their child’s growth chart with the pediatrician at least once a year. “I encourage parents to use the term ‘growth,’ not ‘weight,’ chart. It can send a negative message, especially if the child is already sensitive about his or her size.”

The Our Lifestyles, Our Lives program involves the whole family and educates parents to recognize and understand obesity and the importance of overcoming it.

Parents of obese children are often over-weight themselves, Dr. Tyson says. “They rationalize their child’s weight by saying, ‘Our whole family is built like that.’ But that just means we all have a problem.”

Our Lifestyles, Our Lives, a partnership with Pennington Biomedical Research Center, is free for children 10 to 17 who meet certain requirements. Patients participate in 10 weekly education and physical activity sessions, as well as field trips to grocery stores and restaurants.

Participants work with nutritionists, including hands-on practice preparing healthy meals in the demonstration kitchen. They also see psychologists, and participants can access some of their medical records online through a website called MyChart.

The program helps entire families, which is by design, says Dr. Tyson. “We even have parents who see improvement in their health just from following their child in the program.”

Dr. Tyson plans to expand the program, including offering it to patients at specialty GI clinics in Lafayette, Hammond and Monroe, eventually adding a separate protocol for teens and adding weight-loss surgery.