From Our Team
Posted on February 21, 2022 by Dr. Michael Kelly
For the last two years, offices and classrooms were mere steps away from food pantries and kitchens. With government schools dominantly using Zoom, many children found themselves staring at a screen for hours each day. This combination facilitated a negative trend for child health.
During the pandemic, the national rate of obesity among kids ages 2 to 19 increased to 22.4% in 2020, up from 19.3% in 2019, according to the State of Childhood Obesity organization. In 2019-20, 21.4% of Hispanic youth ages 10 to 17 met the criteria for obesity. Importantly, both COVID and obesity are associated with type 2 diabetes, even among children.
“Type 2 diabetes is no longer just seen primarily in adults due to the increase of childhood overweight and obesity,” said Amanda Timmerman, manager of Clinical Nutrition and Pediatric Diabetes Education at El Paso Children’s Hospital. “We’re seeing prediabetes and type 2 diabetes in our children. So, there is a need in our community for the Empower Program and we’re happy to be able to provide it.”
The Empower Program at El Paso Children’s Hospital, funded partially by a grant from the Paso del Norte Health Foundation, is for children who are at risk for developing or have been diagnosed with prediabetes or Type 2 diabetes.
“The partnership with the Health Foundation has been essential,” Timmerman, said. “The Health Foundation awarded El Paso Children’s Hospital a grant through which we were able to start the Empower Program. It’s something our community needed, and the grant allowed us to implement it. We’re very thankful to the Health Foundation for this opportunity to help the children in our community and their families by encouraging healthy lifestyles through nutrition education.”
In the program, each child and teenager work with a specialized dietitian and social worker to receive a personalized plan, including specific and achievable goals, to make positive lifestyle changes, overcome barriers, and manage their diabetes. This plan is also shared with the child’s primary care doctor so they can better manage the child’s health.
“The program is aimed to help not only the children, but the entire family,” Timmerman said. “This provides the whole family an opportunity to get healthy. The child should not be singled out by eating different meals from the rest of the family. We encourage the whole family to change their lifestyle behaviors for their benefit and especially their children’s benefit.”
The program has served 280 children and teenagers since opening in 2020. Families taking advantage of the Empower Program are already seeing positive impact on their journey to a healthier life.
“The Empower Program team guided us to improve our diet and exercise habits that helped bring my son’s blood sugar to a normal level and what that means to us is the chance of him developing diabetes has been reduced,” said one mother whose son is in the Empower Program. “Our family has embraced these changes and together we feel that we are healthier.”
Another mother, whose son is in the program, said the individual plans the program dieticians helped create for her son helped him lose weight and regained energy.
“The Empower Program team worked with us to set nutrition goals and gave us options that were individualized based on what we wanted to accomplish,” the mother said. “Due to the weight that my son has lost so far, my son says he has more energy, he is able to focus more and is happy when his clothes that didn’t use to fit before, now fit. The Empower Program has helped us develop a different mindset on healthy eating.”
In Spring 2022, the Empower Program will expand services to include a teaching kitchen for children and their families. Their new office will be at 1223 Lee Trevino Drive, El Paso, TX 79907
Parents concerned about their child’s weight, or if their child has been diagnosed with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, are encouraged to talk with a pediatrician and ask for a referral to the Empower Program at El Paso Children’s Hospital.
For more information, go to https://elpasochildrens.org/empower-program.
PDNHF Initiative: Diabetes
Foundation Staff: Michael Kelly
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