As of this January, long-time community health provider Barbara Zind is gradually easing into retirement. After taking call half her life, Barb enjoys choosing which days she wants to work, but doesn’t plan to hang up the medical hat entirely. One area of care she’s passionate about continuing is a program she helped birth over a decade ago called WeCan! Mesa County.
WeCan! stands for Ways to Enhance Children’s Activity and Nutrition. The program, which follows a 12-week rotating curriculum, meets each Wednesday and is open to children in the community between the ages of 6-18. Although most of the activities are geared towards elementary kids, the intentional focus is on helping families develop and sustain healthy activity levels and eating; it utilizes hands-on learning, including grocery store tours and scavenger hunts, taste-testing, cooking instruction and fun, active games to accomplish this goal. In the summer, the entire class visits a local farm where children are encouraged to pick fresh produce. The emphasis for these growing kids is not weight loss, but on developing healthy habits.
Throughout her career in pediatrics, Dr. Zind was concerned about the rising issue of childhood obesity. About a decade ago, she heard about a curriculum which followed national guidelines to practically address the issue of obesity. She and a colleague worked with Rocky Mountain Health Foundation to secure a grant from the State of Colorado and were able to launch We Can! Mesa County. Their goal was to focus on childhood obesity from a creative, preventive angle. Dr. Zind remembers looking at the whole picture of childhood obesity and being overwhelmed, until a friend reminded her: “Just do your little bit and it will make a difference.”
Now that WeCan! Mesa County has been serving the Grand Valley for over ten years, Zind is more aware than ever of its impact on community wellness. “If the family is really invested, we’ll see changes!” she stated. “And those changes motivate people to keep going with it.” Barb proudly shares one success story: “We have a girl coming right now who, if she continues with the good habits, will soon not qualify for the program because she won’t be overweight anymore!”
Dr. Zind and her class co-leader talk about the importance of making exercise fun and finding someone to join you, even if it’s just your pet. Dr. Zind points out that, “Some of [the class] is just about opportunity. In warm weather, we go out to a big grassy field for the last half hour and play active games like soccer and kickball. But before we even start the games, the kids are running around and rolling down the hill.” She continued: “We live in a wonderful place for outdoor activity. We have no excuse for not being outside!”
Joining Dr. Zind in the WeCan! Mesa County program is a wide range of support including a nutritionist, Colorado Mesa interns, nursing students, family practice residents and at one point, a psychologist who was able to talk about topics such as bullying and emotional triggers for eating. The WeCan! Mesa County team strives to keep abreast of the newest national guidelines on obesity such as looking at social determinates of health in this area, seeing obesity as a disease, recognizing genetic links, and acknowledging that medication and surgery can be helpful for teens and older kids when other efforts have been unsuccessful.
We live in what Dr. Zind’s cardiologist friend calls an “obese-ogenic environment.” Dr. Zind points out that pizza parties are the constant reward for everything in school, and we regularly eat to celebrate. In fact, we find it hard to imagine celebrating without unhealthy food. By contrast, at WeCan! Mesa County “We follow the “Go, Slow, Woah Diet,” explains Zind. “So, I say: ‘there aren’t any “No Foods.” Chocolate cake and candy aren’t “No Foods;” they are “Woah Foods.” You can have them; just don’t eat them every day.’ We teach moderation in the diet that is sustainable.”
Dr. Zind feels one important aspect of WeCan! Mesa County is finding ways to dialogue with parents about modeling healthy patterns within the home and recognizing how family members may inadvertently undermine beneficial choices for their children. “We emphasize small, healthy changes. We talk about things like portions, exercise and screentime. We invite the whole family, and we’re really addressing these issues for everybody.”
Interested in WeCan! Mesa County? Children are NOT required to be patients with Primary Care Partners. Visit our Facebook page or call (970) 243-5437 to learn more about the program and enroll.