Teen works to turn the tables on obesity epidemic

March 04, 2011|BY TIFFANY ARNOLD |
  • William "Chris" Moats lost weight through KidShape, a national program administered locally by Meritus Medical Center.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff photographer

Editor's note: This is the second in a monthly series about childhood obesity.

Food wasn't making William "Chris" Moats happy anymore.

So the 15-year-old and his family decided to challenge his biggest foe: obesity. A program called KidShape helped him get there. Chris went from 362 pounds in fall 2010 to 317 in the days leading up to a February reunion with other KidShape participants. But getting there meant having to reexamine his relationship with food, becoming a more informed consumer and becoming more active. The common thread is introspection, a stronger understanding of self and, hopefully, more confidence.

"We don't tout it as a weight-loss program because it is not calorie restricted in any way. What we're trying to promote are small changes that the whole family can make that can lead to a healthier lifestyle," said Becki Weir, Meritus Medical Center's community health outreach coordinator. Weir's department sets up the KidShape program.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one out of every five teens is obese in the United States. Obese youths are more likely to have sleep apnea, bone problems and risk factors for heart disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. They also face social and psychological problems and poor self-esteem because they are stigmatized, according to the CDC.

Sometimes, as Chris and his family found, simply eating better isn't enough.

Mounting problems

Last school year, Chris started having issues with his thyroid, a large gland in the neck that excretes hormones for regulating growth and development. As a result, he started gaining weight. Chris also found it difficult to get up in the morning. He also needed to use a breathing machine at night. "They found out I had sleep apnea," he said.

Then, kids started picking on him because of his size.

Finding it harder and harder to deal, Chris said he lost the desire to go to school. Attendance is still a touchy subject in the Moats household. He's currently a ninth-grader at South Hagerstown High School.

There were also other problems at home.

Chris's parents got divorced in 2010. His father does not live near the family. Chris said eating made him feel better.

"I think that because our father left, that's why I was getting so depressed and eating so much," Chris said.

Grandmother Claudia Bonham, 61, of Hagerstown, said it was hard for the family to watch Chris' ordeal. "I'd rather do it myself for him if I could, but I can't," his grandmother said.

But at the time, the family didn't know what else to do except to say "no" and "don't" to his eating habits and lifestyle.

Chris said he felt like the family was judging him.

Sometimes being told "no," he said, would send him into a rage.

"I just felt controlled when people told me not to eat certain food items," Chris said.

Getting involved with KidShape

 Regina Moats, Chris' mother, said she heard about a hospital program called KidShape, a national program administered locally by Meritus Medical Center.

"It was geared toward kids," Moats said. "It wasn't his mother telling him what to do. It was geared more for them."

KidShape is a nine-week program that attempts to address childhood obesity by targeting three aspects of wellness: diet, physical activity and mental health, said Weir. In order to participate, youths must be referred by a physician. The program targets children 6 to 14 who are overweight or are at risk for being overweight. Children are considered overweight if their body-mass-index (known as BMI) is at or above the 85th percentile when compared to other kids in the same age group. Anything at or above the 95th percentile is considered obese.

"One of the things we talk about is emotional eating," she said, "getting in touch with yourself and asking: Am I really hungry right now? Do I want to eat because I'm bored, I'm lonely, I'm stressed because there's something going on? Is this an emotional need and if it's an emotional need, what else can I do to get through that rather than go and eat something?"

Families meet Thursdays at Elgin Station community center in Hagerstown. Each two-hour session begins with a lesson from the dietitian with a cooking demonstration and recipes. After that, the youths head to the gym for 30 minutes of physical activity.

Meantime, the parents talk with a behavioral health professional. Weir said. When the kids get back from the gym, they have a separate session with the behavioral health professional while the parents meet with the dietitian, going over their child's food diaries.

The intention of the program, Weir said, isn't to lose weight, but to encourage weight maintenance — because the kids have growing to do — and equip them with strategies that will help their families be holistically healthy.

Ways to deal

Chris said he wasn't sure if he was going to like KidShape at first. It took time for him to warm up to the idea of going to a program with kids his own age — he hadn't always had positive experiences socializing with his peers, he said.

"I was kind of nervous," Chris said. "I didn't know what the other kids would be like, whether they'd pick on me or not. I was kind of scared."

Over time, he was able to find his rhythm and started looking forward to coming. Chris said having a new set of coping skills was one of the major things he learned since going through the program. He's also got his mother and grandmother reading labels at the grocery store.

"If I start to get hungry and I get angry, I can go outside and ride my bike to cool down for a while," Chris said. "There are other activities I can do, some of the stuff they mentioned in KidShape other than eating."

He said he was able to overcome his fear of being judged by coming to KidShape, though he said kids still make fun of him at school for being overweight.

But instead of letting it get him down, he's using it as motivation to achieve his goal of being healthier.

"At least I'm trying," he said. "Some people just give up whenever they want to. Even though I feel like I want to give up, I just push to lose more weight every day."

Photos by Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

William "Chris" Moats lost weight through KidShape, a national program administered locally by Meritus Medical Center.

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