August 3, 2013

F.L.A.S.H. program promotes healthier lifestyles for families


---- — PLATTSBURGH — The Clinton County Health Department is organizing its upcoming round of family-oriented workshops to promote healthy lifestyle choices.

The Families Learning About Staying Healthy (F.L.A.S.H.) program enjoyed an initial season earlier this year when four area families took part in the 11-week program that highlights healthy nutrition and regular activity to instill the importance of better decision-making in daily living.

The Health Department would like to improve on that success and is seeking up to 12 county families to participate in the upcoming program starting Wednesday, Oct. 2.

“The program is geared toward healthy lifestyles for families with children who are having weight problems,” said Suzanne LaBorde, a registered nurse for the Clinton County Health Department. “It’s not a weight-loss clinic or weight-loss competition.

“It’s all about establishing healthy behaviors, directing families to lifestyle patterns that will lead to healthier weight,” she added.

The sessions, which last about two hours each, are led by LaBorde, Health Department nutritionist Mandy Snay and an exercise specialist from the City of Plattsburgh’s Recreation Department.

Sessions will be broken into those three specialty areas as children and their parents focus on specific techniques they can use to understand the importance of health choices and put their newly gained knowledge to use in making sound decisions for their diet and activity plans.

“A multidisciplinary approach always seems to work better (in achieving life-changing skills),” Snay said. “We know that they do better when they have access to a variety of health professionals.

“And we know that families do better when they have support of other families, support of people who face the same challenges,” Snay added.

“A lot of families want to make healthy changes, but they don’t know how to get started,” LaBorde noted. “We give them the help in setting goals they can obtain.”

F.L.A.S.H. is an offshoot of a federally supported family-oriented lifestyle program the Health Department ran previously. Now, it is organized and funded by the Health Department, giving program planners the ability to accept self-referrals from families rather than directly through pediatricians.

Although children are weighed in at the beginning and weighed again at the conclusion of the program, success is not based on weight loss but on how well the children — and their family members — have understood and accepted lifestyle changes that promote healthier habits.

“We offer a pre-course survey and a post-course survey that helps identify changes they have made,” Snay said. “For instance, if they said they were drinking 2 percent milk when they started the course and are now drinking 1 percent or fat-free milk, then that’s a positive change.”

“Weight is a symptom of other problems,” said Steve Peters, director of the Recreation Department for the City of Plattsburgh, which will be providing the location for the program as well as the certified exercise specialist at the city’s Rec Center on U.S. Oval.

“If you address the symptom (by focusing on weight loss), then you’re not addressing the problem,” he added. “With proper nutrition and exercise, the symptoms will subside.”

Children must be between 9 and 11 years of age and have a Body Mass Index (BMI, which measures the percentage of fat tissue in the body) over 85. Families can work with their pediatricians to determine the child’s BMI, but the Health Department can help determine that as well.

“If a family is concerned about weight issues, they should give us a call, and we’ll see what we can do,” Snay said.

This year marks the initial partnership between the Health Department and City Recreation Department in working with the F.L.A.S.H. program. 

“The physical-fitness component is important to help both the kids and their families get moving to their potential,” said Peters, who noted the activities portion of the program will vary in structure from full-group sessions to splitting the kids and parents into their own groups.

All three health-care providers agreed that parents have to play a major role in the success of their children’s lifestyle changes. Parents buy the groceries and provide the opportunities for physical activities (through such simple measures as taking walks through the park).

All children participants must be accompanied by a primary caregiver, whether that be one or both parents, a grandparent, uncle or other adult in the child’s life.

Statistics show that about 40 percent of all children in Clinton County are overweight or obese. The county’s F.L.A.S.H. Program is designed to help reduce those numbers by giving families the skills they can use every day with healthier lifestyle choices.

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The Clinton County Health Department will be offering an introductory session on the F.L.A.S.H. Program from 5 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 28, in the Health Department's 2nd Floor Meeting Room (the old courthouse) at 133 Margaret St.

For more information, call the Health Department at 565-4993.