Imagine for a moment that you are a middle-school student and you are morbidly obese. There are the obvious physical issues—your stomach is upset most of the time, you’re out of breath when accomplishing even the simplest tasks, your knees hurt, and you sweat constantly. But worse is how you may feel—the depression, the fear of gym class, the reluctance to wear a bathing suit, the challenge of finding trendy clothes that you feel comfortable wearing, the sense that you don’t fit in.
Connecticut Children’s Medical Center helps children who struggle with obesity every day at its Pediatric Obesity Center for Treatment, Research and Education. And it counts on vital support from partners like the Arthur Murray Dance Centers in Bloomfield and New Britain, which will conduct a 24-hour Teach-A-Thon in support of the Obesity Center’s work with children.
An Unpleasant Reality
Obesity is an unpleasant reality for a surprising number of children in Connecticut (in Hartford, for example, 32 percent of children age 3-5 are overweight or obese). Each year the Obesity Center sees more than 700 children from across the state for a comprehensive multidisciplinary program that seeks to address the various factors that led to the obesity as well as other physical conditions.
“We serve kids from birth to their early 20s, and their families,” says Melissa Santos, PhD, who is the clinical director of the program. “They see a pediatrician, a physical therapist, dietician, psychologist—everything they need for a healthier lifestyle. We also have a bariatric surgery program for kids who need that additional support.”
Obesity a Multifaceted Problem
The need for such a multifaceted approach is clear when you think about a high-school student who is 100, 200 or even 300 pounds’ overweight. The problem involves every part of that teenager’s life. It’s not just a matter of weight, and the weight is not just a matter of food intake.
Dr. Santos says the Obesity Center’s approach is to work with the entire family concurrently, including extended family members. They also have to consider all the stressors in a child’s life and in the family as well. If the family faces financial challenges, for example, they may not be able to afford food that provides better nutrition or even have easy access to a typical grocery store. Additionally, they may not have access to a safe place for their children to play outdoors.
While each case is unique and must be handled individually, the goal in each case remains achieving a healthy and happy child and family. “The children who go through this program end up with their depression going down and their self-esteem going up,” Dr. Santos says. “They feel better about themselves.”
Dancing to Good Health
This year, the Obesity Program will get a boost from the Arthur Murray Dance Centers in Bloomfield and New Britain, which will host a 24-hour Teach-A-Thon at both locations on Jan. 12, starting at 10:00 a.m. and to benefit the Obesity Center. This is the fourth year they’ve hosted the Teach-A-Thon, and people of all ages and all walks of life participate by buying dance lessons throughout the 24-hour event. The Dance Centers donate $30 of each lesson fee to the Pediatric Obesity program.
“I love dancing and I love children, and this is a way to give back to the community,” says Kelly Stangel, who owns the dance centers with her husband, Jonathan.
Melissa Santos says she will be there herself, and hopes to see some of her patients there as well. “Dancing is another great way to help our kids keep active,” she says.