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Nelson family

Family LEAP Program teaches healthy habits to last a lifetime

Nine-year-old Evan Nelson has not always been a fan of vegetables but after attending the Family LEAP Program, Evan will proudly tell you that his favorite veggie is broccoli.

The Family LEAP Program is a 12-week weight management program for children, ages 8-12. Co-led by Gundersen Health System providers and YMCA staff, the program includes medical intervention, nutrition and behavioral health education/support, cooking demonstrations and fun physical activities to improve health of the whole family.

Evan's annual well-child visit got his mom, Ann, thinking about ways to get healthier as a family. "Evan had gained a little more weight than he should have, so his provider [Beth Balder-Schroeder, RN, NP] suggested that we pay more attention to his diet and exercise. When I read an article about the Family LEAP Program, it seemed like a perfect fit for us," states Ann.

The program is designed to help families make positive behavior changes and motivate children to make healthier choices.

"It got me into thinking about fruits and vegetables. My favorite part was helping [registered dietitian Rebecca Cripe, RDN, CD] in the kitchen," shares Evan. And his mom agrees, "Since the class, I've noticed Evan is better about his snacks. A lot of times if he says he is still hungry after a snack, he'll ask for something healthy, such as a banana."

The class also addresses one of the biggest challenges facing parents—finding time for healthy meals and exercise. "Planning is key," says Rebecca, who offers practical advice like the following:

Stock the freezer and cupboards with frozen and canned fruits and vegetables. (Make sure the fruit is in its own juice and the vegetables are low in sodium, or rinse them under water to remove one third of the salt content). When you know making dinner is not going to happen and picking up fast food is the desired option, you can still use "Choose My Plate" to guide your portions. Keep the burger to one side of your plate and fill the other half with the stored fruit or vegetable.

"When it comes to nutrition and exercise, we try to steer families away from 'all or nothing thinking,'" adds Gundersen pediatric psychologist Sarah Long, PhD. "Particularly with exercise, people often have an idea of what constitutes an appropriate 'workout,' so if they can't do that, they don't do anything at all. But even 10 minutes of activity, or giving the house a good vigorous cleaning is better than nothing, and helps keep the momentum going."

It's advice, like this, that has helped the Nelson family develop healthier habits. "We've been trying to be conscious of how many food groups are in our meals and exercising even if it's just taking a walk around the playground while the kids are playing," says Ann.

Ann and Evan made a point to attend the 12 weekly classes and three individual follow-up appointments. Rebecca says, "With this consistency, they found the support that helped make some noticeable changes." Changes that Evan and Ann now know lead to better health.

To learn more about the program, talk to your child's primary care provider. An initial clinic visit is required prior to enrolling and is not included in the cost of the program.

Family LEAP Program perks

  • Rolling admission so families can start at any time
  • Group therapy and individual sessions
  • Childcare available at no cost for young children while families are participating in the program
  • Free family Y membership during the first three months of the program; opportunity to continue that membership after three months, at a discounted rate if necessary
  • The cost of the program is $180 per patient and Children's Miracle Network Hospitals® can provide assistance to those who qualify.

All classes are held at the Dahl Family YMCA Healthy Living Center, 1140 Main St. in La Crosse.

Love + Medicine

Every day, Gundersen Health System delivers great medicine plus a little something extra—we call it Love + Medicine.

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