House used for healthy lifestyle lessons

Families have hands-on learning

A house owned by the Catawba Valley Medical Center (CVMC) in Hickory, NC, which is a part of its campus, is the site of a prevention and treatment program to address childhood obesity. The program is called Healthy House.

The prevention program works with the Catawba County Head Start program to teach children age 3-5 about fitness and nutrition. The children are bussed to the house once a month for lessons. The curriculum is reinforced in the classroom by the teachers.

"The idea behind the prevention is to catch the kids before they are diagnosed with obesity and teach them healthy habits at a younger age," says Lynn Winkler, MA, RD, LDN, the wellness coordinator for CVMC's Healthy House and the pediatric dietitian for the program.

Interaction with the family takes place through a newsletter and attending the Head Start family meetings.

When the program starts each September, each child's height, weight, and blood pressure is measured. They are given a fitness test with parental permission. This is done once again each May before the end of school. Winkler says it is the third year they have done this tracking, but they still are analyzing the data. The objective information from teachers and parents is that the children are eating more fruits and vegetables and are able to verbalize what is being taught. They are more active and drinking less soda.

Children diagnosed as obese can be referred to Healthy House by a physician and enroll in a one-year program to learn how to change unhealthy habits. A family member is involved in the program.

Winkler conducts the nutrition part of the program in the kitchen where she can pull food from the refrigerator, cabinet, and pantry. The activity specialist has a garden, activity room, the garage, and a courtyard to teach participants how to be active. She has performed yoga and Zumba for the whole family, and she is starting a walking club. Also, Winkler has a map of the county and has placed activity stickers to show people parks, recreation centers, or YMCAs in their neighborhood.

The medical director meets with the child at the first appointment. The medical director works with the families on behavioral issues focusing on awareness of factors that contribute to obesity, such as the need for a person to take responsibility for his or her actions.

One-third of the program is funded by the hospital. A Duke Endowment Grant helps fund the treatment program, and a grant under the KB Reynolds Charitable Trust funds the prevention program. Both grant funders are based in North Carolina.