Team effort helps overweight Hawaii children

Jannon Neill
Jannon Neill
Dr. Keith Matsumoto
Dr. Keith Matsumoto

By Teri Okita – bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – Hawaii News Now was the first to bring you an interview with the local author of a controversial book called, "Maggie Goes on a Diet". The kids' book about dieting created a media firestorm earlier this week - seen everywhere from Time to CNN to FOX News. So, we decided to take a closer look the topic of overweight and obese children and their weight management.

A pilot program at Kapiolani Women and Childrens' Medical Center doesn't just tell kids to "eat right and exercise". It incorporates a team of experts that helps children with their body, mind, spirit, and habits.

11-year-old Jannon Neill wants to feel good - both on the inside and outside. "My friends' brothers and sisters used to tease me, but then, now that I'm in the program, they stop calling names and stuff."

The program Jannon's talking about is Kapiolani's pediatric weight management - launched less than a year ago after experts started seeing an alarming rate of overweight children in Hawaii.

"Estimates are up to 25,30, 35% of children are either considered overweight or obese. That's a real big jump in the last generation," explains Dr. Keith Matsumoto, the director of the program.

We've all heard the factors: more fast food, less outside play, sedentary activities. This program is trying to change those behaviors - and not just with the kids.

"You can't just treat the child," says Dr. Matsumoto. "You really have to treat the whole family, and the parents are, obviously, an integral part of the care."

So, families come in to learn healthy habits and the risks involved, if they ALL don't change: long-term risks like liver disease, diabetes, sleep apnea, and asthma.

Patients don't just hear from physicians on this program. They get help from physical therapists, a dietician, and a psychologist.

"When you're a child, it's really difficult because you want to fit in and look and act just like everybody else," says clinical psychologist, Wendy Hirsch. "It's not just about what you eat. It's how you see yourself, about what habits you've learned, about what your self-esteem is … if you have other symptoms of depression or anxiety, if you're getting bullied in school."

Parents are part of that discussion, too. The team hopes these behavioral changes can last a lifetime. It's already starting for Jannon - who's now playing basketball, sitting at the computer less, and eating in moderation.

"It feels good because I get a lot of compliments now," says Jannon. "Like what? Tell me more," I ask. "Like, my friend's sister would say I look pretty everytime she sees me now, and it makes me feel more confident," Jannon answers.

Her motto: stick to it because it WILL pay off.

The program team works working with children, ages 9 through 13. Right now, though, it's already at maximum capacity.

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