Jessica Maxwell, ARNP, offers insight from the front lines of the weight-loss battle
LESS THAN FIVE years ago, childhood obesity was recognized as a significant public health threat in Polk County. According to the most recent data offered by Florida Charts (2013), childhood obesity among WIC children ages two years and younger was at 31 percent, which was 3.4 percent higher than the state’s average. Even more unsettling, the percent of students reporting a Body Mass Index at or above the 95th percentile was also higher in Polk County than the state average — 14.3 percent for middle school students and 18.8 percent for high school students (2012 data).
It’s easy to look at the numbers, however, and not feel the effects of the threat when you are not at the heart of where the problem lies — in the home. The members of the health community who are best equipped and able to assist local families in making a positive turnaround for their children are healthcare providers. Family physicians, pediatricians, physician assistants, advanced registered nurse practitioners, and nurses are just some of the medical staff on the front lines of combating this community health issue.
It’s a problem that cannot be changed quickly, and takes consistent encouragement and continued care. In light of these challenges, Central Florida Health News sought out one of the healthcare professionals who is often working with families on this very health concern. Jessica Maxwell, ARNP, with Central Florida Health Care, Inc., offered her professional insight in this exclusive Q&A on how parents can work with their healthcare team to help their children not only lose weight but also lead more active, healthier childhoods.
Central Florida Health News (CFHN): How do you try to sensitively address childhood obesity with parent(s), knowing that there might be feelings of embarrassment or denial?
Jessica Maxwell, ARNP: I try to focus more on healthy lifestyle choices than the child’s weight, encouraging children and their families to make choices that will benefit their long-term health.
CFHN: In your professional experience, what have you found is the largest hurdle in helping address the issue of childhood obesity for a patient and his/her family? And, how do you overcome it?
Maxwell: The first hurdle we have to overcome is having the parents recognize that their child is obese. Studies have shown that parent denial is a huge obstacle when battling this epidemic. The second hurdle is the parents’ motivation to make change. Life can be stressful, and it is easy to fall back into old habits. This is why we have regular follow-up appointments to discuss their progress and make patient centered goals at each visit.
CFHN: Do you find that families of child patients who struggle with obesity have less access to healthy foods?
Maxwell: Statistics show that obesity rates have increased in children of low-income families. A Harvard School of Public Health study found it takes $1.50 more per day to eat a nutritious diet rather than an unhealthy one. This can be a huge obstacle that can cause less access for healthy foods. This is why it is so important to give patients practical meal options that are overall less expensive. At Central Florida Health Care, Inc., we have a full-time dietician that works with our families, as well as navigators who are familiar with community resources, including access to healthy food options through patient benefits.
CFHN: Do you have any tips or strategies for parents to follow who want to help their child lose weight, but are not sure where to begin?
Maxwell: The best place to start is with themselves. They are the biggest role model for their children. If they implement healthy lifestyles for themselves and engage their entire family in these practices, it will have a huge impact.
CFHN: How do you consult with the parent(s) on other factors in the home that might be affecting a child’s eating habits and overall weight (i.e., stress in the home or at school, health conditions that might be limiting physical activity, too much TV time, etc.)?
Maxwell: I partner with the parents to try and figure out what the root cause of the weight gain may be and work with them to come up with solutions to these inhibiting factors that will work with their family’s needs. At each visit, we have parents/children set short-term goals and set regular follow-up visits to review these goals and set new ones. Something as simple as playing with them outside on a daily basis and offering healthy snack options can be part of the short-term plan.
CFHN: Awareness campaigns like the 5-2-1-0 program have been created to help address the issue of childhood obesity in Florida. How do you think this program (and others) is helping educate parents on how to help their children lose weight and lead healthier, more active childhoods?
Maxwell: I think these programs are wonderful. They are straightforward, easy to understand, and simple enough to implement in their child’s daily life. The more we educate our community and give them the tools to make changes in their lives, the more success we will see.
CFHN: Do you have any resources (online or other) that you refer parents to?
Maxwell: Here are a couple of resources that I find very helpful. They offer many articles and handouts that discuss nutrition and fitness:
A CENTRAL FLORIDA HEALTH NEWS staff report