It's called KidShape, but it gives the whole family a nutritional workout.

Offered by Jameson Health System and Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, the wellness program is designed to help families develop healthy lifestyles

"This is not a weight management program," explained Charlane Verdi, director of staff and community education for Jameson and coordinator of KidShape. "It's about learning to be healthy and building self-esteem.

"Studies have show that ultimately, most kids in the program lose weight, but it's because of the lifestyle changes, not the program emphasis."

Developed in California in 1987 by a pediatric endocrinologist, KidShape targets those ages 6 to 14 with body mass indexes in the 85 percentile or higher. Participants are referred by physicians or school nurses, who began recording students' height-to-weight ratios, or body mass indexes, this school year as required by the state healt department.

"We can see what a dramatic impact weight has on health and we wanted to bring a comprehensive program to the area to help children avoid serious health problems down the road because of excess weight," noted Dr. Donald Fischer, chief medical director for Highmark.

Jameson's program, which began in late September, involved nine children, ages 7 to 12. The group met weekly for two hours over a nine-week period, with a parent accompanying each child.

Each session included exercise, nutritional information, a cooking demonstration and time for parents and children to meet separately.

"We get out the measuring cups and look at what a serving of food really is," explained Maria Tsikouris, a registered dietician at Jameson who works with KidShape participants. "It's very interactive, very hands-on.

"Moms and dads are both working and the kids all have activities every night," she continued. "There's no one home to cook a nutritious meal, so we turn to fast food. We offer them ideas for quick, easy meals and ways to make good choices when choosing fast food."

Tsikouris also emphasized that parents aren't the only ones to blame.

"Schools are another contributing factor," she said. "Some do OK, but sometimes the options are nothing but chicken nuggets and fries or pepperoni rolls with no milk or water as beverage choices."

Also assisting with KidShape are behavioral health specialist Cheryl Lucchessi and physical education teacher Eric Verdi, both with Psychological/Vocational Services.

"We all encourage the parents to do things along with the kids as a reinforcement," said

Verdi, who is also a registered nurse, said "It's not just us preaching to them. They see other families with the same struggles and there's group support."

Tsikouris added: "These are families that have established habits that need to be changed. Our goal is to give them an awareness of how to change."



*Jameson Health System plans to offer KidShape again this winter, with sessions likely to start in January.

*For more information, call (724) 656-4094 or (724) 656-4270.

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