B.C. Children's Hospital's weight-management program for youth, based in Vancouver, is expanding to other parts of the province thanks to $970,000 from the B.C. government.

Shapedown BC is a 10-week referral-based program that helps youth and their families use lifestyle changes, instead of diets, to manage their weight. The program is now available to families in Richmond, Surrey, Nanaimo, and Kamloops.

"My whole life I've had a weight issue and I didn't want [my son] to have the same issues that I've had ... The doctor suggested we go and check out Shapedown and I'm glad we did. We learned a lot," said Christine Churches, whose 13-year old son, Seamus, graduated from the program in November.

A 'holistic approach'

Many researchers agree that changing a person's diet alone, does not help them lose weight in the long-term. But the Shapedown program emphasizes other strategies like communication and family meals, instead, in an effort to help its participants see long-lasting results.

Christine says her family has kept up the changes suggested by the program's doctor, counsellor, dietician and exercise coach.

She and her son now read food labels. They plan their meals for the week, before heading to the grocery store together, and they spend less time watching TV.

"We had such a good experience, and we learned so much, and we can pass that information along to others, even if they don't go to that program," said Christine.

Success stories like the Churches' are a result of the program's "overarching approach," according to Andrew Tugwell, director of population health at the Provincial Health Services Authority.

"There's a range of activities that can address stigma and offer safe places for children and families to come and really address their needs."

Childhood obesity rates in Canada are at an all time high — about 13 per cent of Canadian children aged three to 19 are obese.

To listen to the full audio, click the link labelled: Shapedown B.C. helps families' health.