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New program combats obesity with fun family time, tools for healthy living

It’s no surprise that there’s an obesity epidemic in America.

According to the Center for Disease Control, during the past 20 years, there has been a dramatic increase in obesity. In 2009, only Colorado and the District of Columbia had obesity rates of less than 20 percent. Thirty-three states had a rate of 25 percent or greater and nine states had rates equal or greater than 30 percent.

That means that in every state, almost a quarter of the population is making unhealthy food choices and choosing a sedentary lifestyle over a more active one.

But there are some who are attempting to make a change for themselves and their children, with the help of the MEND (Mind, Exercise, Nutrition…Do it) program.

“This is a program that was initially developed by a clinician in Britain and is very widespread,” said Catherine McNeal, MD, a medical advisor for the Central Texas chapter of the program. “It’s used in almost every single village in England.”

Over the past few years the program had taken roots in New York City, Houston and Austin. When the MEND developers heard about Scott & White through their Austin contacts, they asked if Scott & White might be interested in starting a program in Central Texas.

“It took us about a year of meeting and coming up with funding to offer MEND,” Dr. McNeal said. “Our pilot program is at two sites—both YMCAs in Waco and at the parks and recreation center in Temple.”

Local families are chosen to be a part of the program by meeting the criteria—having a child who is between the ages of seven and thirteen and is overweight or obese.

The children and their parents meet with MEND-trained leaders twice a week for two hours for 11 weeks. At the end of the 11 weeks, the whole family has a better idea of how to live a healthy lifestyle, how to make smart food choices, set nutrition targets and understand healthy portion sizes and interpret food labels.

Successful Families

mend-200x300“We learned to make better choices in what we eat and we’re seeing the evidence that the program really works,” said Amy Medina, mother of 12-year-old Ashlyn. “She’s lost weight and feels better. She’s more confident.”

Ms. Medina said her daughter got the short end of the genetic stick when it comes to her metabolism and she was happy to learn the tools to help her daughter make food choices to combat her genetic predispositions.

Duan Weaver, a Waco mother who completed the program with her daughter Alex, said she wanted her daughter to overcome her predispositions as well.

“I wanted her to have the ability to start off on a better foot than I did,” she said. “I wanted to make behavioral changes in myself that could help her in the future.”

Ms. Weaver said she had an “aha” moment while participating in the MEND program.

“I realized that I was not doing what I needed to be doing as a mother, and the information they were giving me was like the Bible of health for children and it needs to be shared with the world,” she said.

“The information they were giving me was like the Bible of health for children and it needs to be shared with the world.”

She was so enthused by the program that after completing her cycle, she signed up to be a leader of the program to teach other families that it is possible to live healthier.

Donations, Funds A Must

“If I could give a million dollars for every child to have this knowledge in their family, I would,” Ms. Weaver said. “We invest in other things that are not as valuable as this.”

Although the program is not a million dollar venture, it does cost quite a bit to keep it running.

“MEND [developers] recognizes that the cost of this program is high,” Dr. McNeal said. “So [they] are looking into how to reduce the cost of how you can bill that service to your healthcare provider or have the families bear some of the cost to participate.”

Dr. McNeal said Scott & White and its partners want to keep the program active and alive in the community, but like any service that a community offers, somebody has to come up with the price tag.

“That is our urgent need right now,” she said. “So, certainly if anybody in the community feels like they would like to make an important community contribution to [help] this program, we would receive them with open arms.”

The program not only helps children and their families eat better and exercise more, it also helps them to be happier, Ms. Weaver said.

“And children that are happier reduce the amount of crime that we have in our neighborhoods and all of the negative things,” she said. “When you feel like you’re worthy of things—which a lot of these kids don’t—it just has a better outcome for the community in its entirety.”

If you would like more information about the MEND program, contact Brock Boone at 254-298-5737 or email at bboone@templetx.gov.

About the author

Jessa McClure
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Jessa McClure holds a degree in journalism and mass communication from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, TX, where she is currently an adviser for student publications. She has been a writer in the health care field since 2009.

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New program combats obesity with fun family time, tools for healthy living