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Helping Kids Develop Healthy Habits

Published in Pediatrics, Weight Management, For the Health of It Author: Andrew Maloney,MD

Editor’s Note: Dr. Andrew Maloney was recently a guest on “Your Health” — a weekly radio program on KNSI discussing health issues featuring providers across CentraCare. In the St. Cloud area, you can listen to “Your Health” weekly on AM 1450 and FM 99.3, Saturdays at 2:30 p.m. and Sundays at 9:30 a.m. Or you can listen live at

Dr. Maloney is a board-certified pediatrician who cares for children of all ages and backgrounds. He is also medical director of CentraCare’s Pediatric Weight Management program, which utilizes a team of healthcare professionals to help review a child’s medical needs and encourage families to develop healthy lifestyle changes. To help prevent the negative long-term health effects of poor eating and exercise habits. Learn more now about the CentraCare Pediatric Weight Management program.

Here are some questions from Dr. Maloney’s interview. You can listen to the full program here. Some of the text below has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Within the past 12 months, providers at CentraCare saw more than 13,000 children for a physical or well child visit. More than 4,300 of them met the criteria for being overweight or obese. About in one in every three children had a BMI Percentile for Age above the 85th percentile category. How is this happening?

Dr. Maloney: This is the trickle-down of our current society. What you see is a multi-generational thing where the weights, the habits of parents move on down the age line and are incorporated by younger kids.

Q: What can we do to help make sure our children are at a healthy weight?

Dr. Maloney: If you are getting your child in for an annual checkup, his/her height and weight will be measured, tracked and you’ll be able to see how your child trends over time. That’s the key to noticing weight issues early.

A: We don’t want to ruin someone’s self-esteem, so how do you talk about weight issues carefully with children?

Dr. Maloney: For sure you don’t want children to feel bad about themselves. Dr. Kim Hellier is a psychologist on our team who helps us be mindful of this. We try to make a program that is kid-friendly. We are challenging them. We are giving them small goals that help lead them somewhere. We’re trying to make it so they are having fun — even at a simple clinic appointment.

Q: Food is love everywhere. It’s part of our culture. How does one go about changing that?

Dr. Maloney: We recognize that food is part of the family. One of our first interventions we have with every family is bringing everyone to the meal, with screens off and away, so they can talk with each other. That structure and time is very important for any meal. It has been studied many times that the family meal plays a role in good health. Families that eat together have fewer psychological issues, less obesity and overeating problems.

The family approach of the parents getting out and being active with their kids is very important, too. It’s not enough just to sign up your kids for baseball, but going out and throwing it with him or her.

And it also needs to be fun. You can’t ask a kid to do 30 push-ups a night if you’re not willing to do it. What’s ideal if you can find something fun that you can do together — whether it’s a walk, throwing a baseball or swimming.

Q: What is mindful eating?

Dr. Maloney: Mindful eating means you are thoughtful about what you put in your body, how hungry or full are you. We actually use scales with kids to help them identify how full you are at any given time. So that they stop before they get to that “Thanksgiving Dinner” stage where you have eaten so much you could become sick. That doesn’t mean that you should be hungry all of the time. We should be moving back and forth between being somewhat hungry and somewhat full.

Q: Do you use the word “diet” at in your practice?

Dr. Maloney: When I use the word diet, I’m comparing it to a koala bear’s diet. We all learn in school that they eat eucalyptus leaves — and if I had one at home that’s what I’d be feeding it. Comparatively, we as humans should eat a human diet. And a human diet includes a mix of fruits and vegetables, proteins and fats. Without that — we wouldn’t survive.

Q: When you talk with children in the Weight Management program, what are some of the things you talk about?

Dr. Maloney: I talk about fun a lot. We talk about what you do that’s fun. What would have you not tried that’s fun — whether that’s activity or foods. There are a lot of kids who don’t try certain foods because there are other foods that taste better than others. And I tell them that’s normal. Everybody likes certain things compared to others. Sometimes we have things that we don’t like as much — but we still have them. My least favorite color — I still have shirts in that color. I still wear them sometimes. Even though the other one might be my favorite.