By: Jill Cejas
Jill Cejas, MS, CHES, is the Head to Toe supervisor in the St. Louis Children’s Hospital Health Advocacy and Outreach Department
Families are spending more time at home during the pandemic and are sometimes falling victim to “Quarantine 19,” a common term that refers to unexpected weight gain during COVID-19. This phenomenon has been attributed to stress eating, snacking out of boredom, challenges finding healthy food, and less time being active.
As a supervisor in St. Louis Children’s Hospital’s weight management program, Head to Toe, I know all too well that while weight management challenges pre-date the pandemic, the additional stressors related to economic and social uncertainties as well as fewer outdoor options have been daunting.
It’s a sobering fact that the prevalence of childhood obesity is a growing epidemic in the United States. Among those aged two to 19, 17.8% are considered obese. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Healthy People initiative has a 2030 goal to reduce this proportion to 15.5%.
Studies indicate a need for intervention at an early age to prevent the increase of obesity at adolescence and into adulthood. Obesity in adulthood is serious because it is associated with poorer mental health outcomes and reduced quality of life. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity is also associated with the leading causes of death in the United States and worldwide, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer.
Head to Toe: A Multidisciplinary Weight Management Program
That’s why we created Head to Toe a few years ago. It’s a multidisciplinary weight management program designed just for kids, age 8-17, and their families. To support kids and families during the pandemic, Head to Toe transitioned to a virtual program in early 2020.
We work to give families the knowledge and skills to implement small, healthy lifestyle changes in their life. We’re all staying home much more often. So part of our curriculum is providing ideas for healthy meals at home and activities at home to help families make healthier lifestyle choices.
Head to Toe is led by a registered dietitian, social worker, and exercise specialist. Together, we help families learn to make healthy lifestyle choices by setting goals, regular exercise, and healthy eating.
Even virtually, we offer fitness and nutrition activities and supportive group discussions in a fun and interactive setting. Kids and their parents/caregivers meet virtually once a week in group classes for 17 sessions. Each week, the class focuses on a different topic from one of the three disciplines. The three-pronged approach ultimately makes a positive impact on a child’s self-esteem.
What Parents Say About It
Emily Edgell, a parent in the program, found Head to Toe to be the answer for her family. “I noticed that my 12-year-old and I were getting into unhealthy patterns where I was enforcing guidelines about what, when, and how much he should eat, not because I wanted to, but because I was concerned about how unhealthy his choices were. I tried to offer guidance, but it had already become a point of contention between us and it was hard for him to hear me without feeling judged. I wanted to offer him the tools to know how to make healthy lifestyle choices for himself and I wanted him to feel in charge of how he acquired and used those tools.”
“The Head to Toe program has been a great experience for us. The facilitators have presented helpful information in a fun and non-judgmental way. The tools and resources about healthy eating, exercise, and social and emotional wellness are things that my son can return to and use again and again.”
How to Register
The Spring 2021 session begins January 27. To better understand the needs of each child, families are asked to participate in an orientation session prior to enrolling in the class. In the session, families receive class details and may enroll. Orientations are available January 7, 12 and 20 from 6:30 – 7:30 p.m. on Zoom. To sign up for an orientation, please call 314-454-KIDS or register online here.