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Overcoming childhood obesity

Dr. Madeline Joseph, chief of the University of Florida Division of Pediatric Bariatrics in Jacksonville.

Children who struggle with obesity may not be able to do the same types of physical activities as their peers, or may feel dizzy or winded when they do. When a child’s weight prevents him or her from enjoying activities with friends, professional help may be needed.

Significant weight gain in childhood can lead to physical illness and may cause social exclusion and low self-esteem, challenges faced daily by as many as one in five children in the United States. A child who has a body mass index, or BMI, at or above the 95th percentile is considered obese.

The UF Health Pediatric Weight Management Center provides a comprehensive and unique program that cares for patients ages 4 to 18 with obesity and related health issues. The program began three years ago and is part of a national registry of only 33 pediatric weight-loss centers. UF Health is ranked among the top three programs and first in the nation among centers that have a maximum of 150 patients.

Medical Director Madeline Joseph, MD, leads the multidisciplinary team of specialists at the center. The team includes a pediatric cardiologist, a certified nurse practitioner, a licensed psychologist and a clinical dietitian. Working together, a patient receives support and treatment for the various areas affecting his or her physical and emotional health.

The center’s psychologist meets with the new patient and at least one supporting household family member for an initial interview. The psychologist gathers details about the child’s history, identifies events or circumstances that may be contributing to weight gain, educates him or her about the program and assesses their level of motivation.

“It’s important to determine if the child is ready for change,” Joseph said. “We don’t tell them what to do, but allow them to identify for us what is important to them in their weight loss journey.”

The intake interview provides Joseph with a thorough background about the patient and family. Joseph encourages patients to trust her and the program. As the weight comes off, patients quickly see they can accomplish their goals without being overwhelmed or stressed. Being able to wear a certain dress size by prom, for example, can motivate a child to follow the program and see results.

“It’s exciting to see how far they have come compared to when they started,” Joseph said. “A few months later, they have more confidence, better posture, and have developed new problem-solving skills.”

Using innovative tactics to engage patients makes the process practical and fun. Instead of a written food diary, patients simply snap a photo of what they eat. Exercise can begin by using a pedometer and walking inside while they are on their phones, tablets or watching television. The weight management program works to make new healthy habits simple, instead of a chore.

“This is not about food deprivation — it’s about developing life skills to enjoy a better life,” Joseph said.

The program’s dietitian offers virtual visits, making the frequent check-ins easy for families. Patients and parents log in from home or school on a computer or mobile device, completing appointments in a fraction of the time it takes to complete an in-person visit.

Call 904.633.0920 for more information. The weight management program is part of the UF Health Pediatric Multispecialty Center, located at 841 Prudential Drive, Suite 1900.

For the media

Media contact

Dan Leveton
Media Relations Manager (904) 244-3268