University HealthCare Alliance

February 10, 2020

Stanford Children’s Health Moves to Extend Reach of Weight Control Program

Stanford Children’s Health experts are applying CDC funding and design thinking toward making their weight-management program available to low-income families nationwide.

For the last 20 years, experts at the Stanford Children’s Health Pediatric Weight Control Program have helped local families learn how their kids can reach and maintain healthy weights. Now, the program’s leaders are taking a Silicon Valley-inspired approach to sharing that success.

Funded by a five-year grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they will use design thinking and technology to package the weight-control program, now available only at Stanford Children’s Health, into a format that can be delivered by health professionals and community leaders anywhere. Stanford experts are incorporating lessons from Biodesign and the technology industry into their efforts to scale up the delivery of the program. 

“It’s important to provide pediatric weight-management programs that are accessible, acceptable and affordable for the populations that have the greatest need,” said Thomas Robinson, MD, professor of pediatrics and of medicine at the Stanford School of Medicine and principal investigator on the CDC grant. About two-dozen well-regarded pediatric weight-control programs exist at academic medical centers around the country, he said, but most children and teens don’t live near these centers.

Although pipelines exist for translating medical research into marketable drugs and medical devices, a widespread roll-out of public health interventions is far less common. “We have an efficacious program,” said Robinson, who also holds the Irving Schulman, MD, Professorship in Child Health. “The challenge is: How do we get it out there?”

Childhood obesity rooted in social inequality

Since the 1970s, pediatric obesity rates have more than tripled, according to the CDC, putting millions of young people at risk for medical problems such as high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes. Disadvantaged youth, including children and teens who are racial or ethnic minorities or from low-income families, are the most likely to be affected.

“That’s the group at greatest need, and it also tends to be the group that has the least access to effective weight-management programs,” Robinson said. The grant, awarded as part of the CDC’s Childhood Obesity Research Demonstration Project 3.0, is intended to give low-income families access to safe, evidence-based weight-management plans. The Stanford Children’s Pediatric Weight Control Program fits that bill; it has helped more than 80% of participants achieve a healthier weight. 

Children and teenagers in the program attend six months of weekly group meetings along with a parent, learning about healthy eating habits and exercise while getting support from other families facing similar challenges.

“It has the benefits of a face-to-face model,” Robinson said, noting that it’s important for parents to be supportive players in addressing their child’s weight, and that having a group of peers to empathize with also helps. “I think that’s part of the secret sauce of why these family-based, group programs have worked.”

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