In the diverse Boston neighborhood of Chelsea, as many as 30 percent of elementary school students are obese, or are at risk of becoming so.
Obesity is the most prevalent chronic condition among children nationwide. Public health experts are trying to solve the epidemic. Mass General’s Chelsea HealthCare Center, one of several community health centers the hospital manages, is addressing the childhood obesity issue by engaging entire families in the effort.
“Recognizing that the contributing influences are varied, and often family-wide, it makes sense to work with entire families at once,” says Alexy Arauz Boudreau, MD, MPH, who is leading a related study, which is supported by charitable donations to the MGH Fund.
Dr. Arauz Boudreau is a pediatrician at the center and an assistant in Pediatrics with the MGH Center for Child and Adolescent Health Policy. Her study, called Healthy Today, seeks to determine whether family lifestyle intervention can reduce childhood obesity rates.
“By teaching children and caregivers about healthy nutrition, and the need for regular exercise, we are trying to improve quality of life.”
“By teaching children and caregivers about healthy nutrition, and the need for regular exercise, we are trying to improve quality of life,” she says. “We want to reduce obesity and avoid the dangerous long-term effects.”
Dr. Arauz Boudreau and her colleagues are working with families with a child who is obese. The team uses a six-week, interactive course called Power-up. It was designed by Chelsea Healthcare Center colleagues Wanda Gonzalez, MD, and Sara Nelson, MD. The course combines nutritional recommendations with information on physical activity. Included are techniques for reducing the childhood stress and anxiety.
After the course, a coach helps each family implement lifestyle changes. Experts also measure trends in food selection and activity levels while analyzing metabolic markers. The goal is to produce a model for helping families improve childhood health across the country.