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A Big Fat Problem
Want to Lose Weight? Here's a Radical Idea:
Eat Less and Exercise More

by Jeff Worley

Photo of Joan Griffith in soccer fieldJoan Griffith, who joined UK's Department of Pediatrics two years ago, heads up the new TEAMS clinic—Teens Enjoying Active Management Systems. "The cornerstones of the program are lifestyle changes, physical activity, counseling, and dietary adjustments."

Joan Griffith, who strikes you immediately as direct and knowledgeable, is a soft-spoken woman. But she carries a loud message: She wants the kids and teens she works with to "own their bodies." And she's formed a team to help them do exactly that.

No, make that TEAMS.

"We started a clinic here last January that we call TEAMS—Teens Enjoying Active Management Systems," says Griffith, who came to UK two years ago after a distinguished career as an inpatient and outpatient pediatrician in the U.S. Air Force (she wound up being a colonel). The clinic, dedicated to helping children, adolescents and young adults find healthy weight solutions, is run out of the UK Department of Pediatrics.

The clinic is for all teens. Patients may be self-referred or referred by their primary-care physician, Griffith explains. "The cornerstones of the program are lifestyle changes, physical activity, counseling, and dietary adjustments." So far, the program has enrolled 50 patients, some from as far away as 2 ½ hours from Lexington.

When teens are referred to this program, here's what happens. Griffith talks with them in the initial session, asking the most basic questions about their reason for wanting to join the program. She also gathers additional information, completes a physical examination, and, when indicated, suggests lab screening for thyroid, lipid profile and blood sugar. The patient and family meet with a dietician who provides nutritional counseling. Other clinic consultants include an exercise physiologist and psychologist who assist in developing individually tailored exercise plans and assessment of emotional issues that may be affecting eating habits and self-image.

"After this screening, we have the boy or girl come back in two to four weeks with only one goal: no weight gain," Griffith explains. "From there on, we want them to lose a pound a week."

The participant's parents, who also come to the meeting with the dietician, are absolutely crucial to any weight-loss success, Griffith says, and so are involved from the start. "A parent can be an asset or a saboteur. Think about it: Somebody buys the groceries, somebody brings the food into the house, somebody cooks the food. I want to get the family to the point where they say, 'We as a family will make changes.'"

Although no weight-loss statistics have yet been generated from the current group of participants, Griffith says that TEAMS has been so well-received that program hours, beginning last September, have been extended.

"We know that obesity represents the merger of many factors," says Griffith. "There's an energy imbalance. We have to watch calories, but also have to watch how we expend the energy those calories give us." She believes one of the most important things she and her staff can do, especially in concert with colleagues like Jody Clasey, an associate professor in UK's Department of Kinesiology and Health Promotion who is the primary exercise physiologist in the TEAMS program, is to get kids and teens to realize that exercise is fun. "Exercise is obviously essential to weight loss," Griffith says. "We've got to do what we can to make these kids enjoy exercise. Repeating the words of a young teenager involved with the local Health Department TWEENS Program, Griffith says her motto is 'Make it fun and they will come.'"

Along with encouraging physical activities the girl or boy already enjoys, Griffith referenced the book titled Forgotten Neighborhood Games: Get Kids Back Outside and Loving It by Scott Strother, as an excellent source of neighborhood games that kids used to play after school or after dinner. She hopes the book will spark some interest in "being outdoors and moving."

Griffith, a board-certified pediatrician since 1985, admits that she once had a more passive attitude toward childhood and adolescent obesity.

"My theory used to be, if the family didn't come to me asking for my help, there was no reason to do anything because without family involvement and support, it wasn't going to work. I no longer believe that. I believe now that legally and medically, we as a society have to get involved. We would never think of turning our eyes if we saw a kid who was malnourished, and we need to realize that severe obesity is a form of malnutrition, too."

Over the years, Griffith has seen her share of happy results from the children and teens she's worked with. "I remember one young man back at Andrews Air Force Base who was overweight and despondent when he first came to see me. Then after nine months of working hard to lose weight, he stopped in the clinic. 'Dr. Griffith, do you know what the other students are calling me now?' he said. 'No, what?' I said. 'They're calling me "slack butt." 'Cause I've lost so much weight.' He'd lost so much his clothes didn't fit anymore. He lit up my room with his smile. So my theory is: One slack butt at a time."

Anyone 21 years of age or younger is eligible to participate in the TEAMS Program. To join, a child or adolescent can be referred by the primary-care provider, or parents can contact the program directly at 859/323-5643.

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