Weight management program offers help for kids

By Rachel McNeill - Anchor

HOUSTON - The rate of childhood obesity has more than tripled in the last 30 years.

For some children, nothing has worked. Their families deal with feelings of frustration and failure. Now a unique inpatient treatment program is offering an aggressive intervention.

At age 11, Staecy Gonzalez noticed that along with developing as every girl does, the pounds began to pile on.

She explained, "I kept looking at myself getting bigger and bigger and not fitting into my clothes, and the depression got really bad. Everything was just horrible. I was called a whole lot of names, you know. People were very cruel about it."

Anti-anxiety medication only made things worse.

She added, "I started gaining a lot of weight. I'm talking about 8 pounds a week. It was really bad."

Her doctor recommended HealthBridge Children's Hospital's Obesity Program, the only inpatient weight management program for kids in the state.

When Staecy checked in, the 15 year old was 5 feet 3 inches tall and 268 pounds.

Program Director Dr. Sharonda Taylor told Local 2, "Some of the levels of childhood overweight and obesity have leveled off, but cases of higher excess body weight continue to move forward, and not everyone's successful in the outpatient side."

Taylor said the program accepts patients 2 to 21 years old with a body mass index (BMI) higher than 95 percent, combined with a chronic illness, like type 2 diabetes and obstructive sleep apnea.

Each child is closely monitored by a team of physicians, dietitians, psychologists and physical therapists.

Taylor said, "So what we're doing here is we're really trying to provide an environment where they can practice putting into place healthy eating."

Taylor added that as the pounds melt away, their medical conditions improve greatly.

She said, "It really will bring tears to your eyes and you just want to cheer them on, you want to give them big hugs and, as a provider, I know that losing weight isn't just about the weight, but it's about how they approach life, how they approach themselves."

Staecy dropped 20 pounds in a month.

She said, "It felt amazing! I felt beautiful, honestly. I felt like I could do it. I felt confident. "

Her mom, Coral, added, "Right now, you can tell she's happy and more confident and I really love it. That's the best they can give her (at) HealthBridge."

Staecy said, "I was suffering in silence, and now I actually feel beautiful and I have friends and I love life. It's just the way I see things. It's different."

Staecy's entire family is onboard, too. They signed up for a gym membership and are enjoying smaller portions.

Taylor said family involvement is critical so the children can continue to get support even after they're discharged.

The HealthBridge Inpatient Obesity Program accepts all forms of insurance, including Medicaid.

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