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Service Delivery Innovation Profile

Group-Based, Culturally Sensitive Weight-Loss Program for Families Leads to Improvements in Children's Health-Related Behaviors and Declines in Body Mass Index

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The Promoting Health in Teens and Kids weight management program at Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics offers a culturally sensitive group education intervention for obese children and their parents that addresses behavioral changes related to physical activity and nutrition strategies, along with families' economic challenges that make weight management difficult for children. The program consists of 18 weekly meetings, followed by 20 monthly followup sessions. An evaluation of the program shows that participating children reduced their body mass index, triglycerides, consumption of sugared beverages and screen time. Child weight–related quality of life and behavioral and emotional symptoms also improved, while parent weight and body mass index significantly decreased. Both children and parents expressed high levels of satisfaction with the program.

Evidence Rating (What is this?)

Strong: The evidence consists of randomized control trial results as well as pre- and post-implementation measures of a variety of metrics, including body mass index percentiles and behaviors related to physical activity and nutrition.
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Developing Organizations

Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics
Kansas City, MOend do

Date First Implemented

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Patient Population

Participants range in age from 8 to 18 years.Race and Ethnicity > Black or african american; Hispanic/latino-latinaend pp

Problem Addressed

Childhood obesity is a widespread, growing problem that has devastating health consequences. The main causes of the epidemic are a decline in physical activity and an increase in intake of high-calorie foods—problems that are especially severe for children in low-income families. Despite this growing epidemic, primary care providers and hospital-based clinicians have not developed effective strategies to treat this problem, especially among low-income children.1
  • A growing problem, especially for low-income children: Over the past 3 decades, the childhood obesity rate in the United States has more than doubled among preschool children (age 2 to 5 years) and more than tripled for children ages 6 to 11 years; approximately 9 million children older than 6 years of age are obese. Ethnic minority populations (especially African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans) and children in low-socioeconomic status families tend to have higher rates of obesity than the rest of the population; for example, up to 24 percent of African-American and Latino children are above the 95th percentile in terms of body mass index (BMI), with Hispanic boys and African-American girls having the highest rates of overweight/obesity.2 Approximately 36 percent of primary care patients ages 2 to 12 years at Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics are overweight or obese; of these, 39 percent are African American, and 35 percent are Latino.3
  • Devastating mental and physical health consequences: Young people are at risk of developing serious psychosocial burdens related to being obese. Because society stigmatizes this condition, obese children often feel shame, blame themselves, and suffer from low self-esteem that may impair academic and social functioning and carry into adulthood. Overweight/obesity also causes physical health problems. In a population-based sample, approximately 60 percent of obese children between the ages of 5 and 10 years had at least one cardiovascular disease risk factor such as elevated total cholesterol, triglycerides, insulin, or blood pressure, while 25 percent had two or more risk factors.2
  • Limited physical activity, especially for children in low-income families: Leisure time that was once spent playing outdoors is now often spent watching television or playing computer and video games. Additionally, urban designs discourage walking and other physical activities. High-crime rates in inner-city areas also force parents and schools to limit children's outdoor activities (including walking or biking to and from school), whereas poorly equipped schools and neighborhoods (e.g., few if any nice playgrounds, playing fields, etc.) in these areas frequently limit opportunities for physical activity.
  • Poor eating habits, especially among children in low-income families: Economic pressures to minimize food costs and limited available time for working parents to purchase and prepare nutritious food at home results in frequent consumption of convenience foods that are high in calories and fat. In low-income, urban neighborhoods, there is also limited access to grocery stores that sell healthy food, including fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Providers struggle to find effective interventions to reduce childhood obesity: Providers face many challenges related to providing services to overweight and obese children, including a lack of reimbursement for clinical care, lack of evaluation and outcomes data, limited resources, and increased demand for services. Addressing these needs is critical to promoting the health of children who are overweight, obese, or morbidly obese.4

What They Did

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Description of the Innovative Activity

This Promoting Health in Teens and Kids (PHIT Kids) program provides 18 weekly group meetings for parents and children that address eating and exercise behavior, nutrition, and physical activity, followed by 20 monthly maintenance meetings. The program addresses socioeconomic factors as well as unique cultural practices of Latino and African-American participants, with special attention paid to beliefs and attitudes regarding weight, body size, cooking styles, and physical activity. The program partners with community programs (e.g., YMCA programs, grocery stores) so that families learn about opportunities for physical activity and where they can purchase nutritious foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables. Key elements of the program are described below:
  • Initial screening to determine eligibility and interest in program: Children and parents are screened for the program to determine whether they are interested and eligible.
    • Qualifications: To be eligible for the program, a child must be age 9 years or older with a BMI that is equal to or greater than the 95th percentile for the child's age and gender. Eligibility is not determined by income. Information provided in June 2014 indicates that, to date, 66 percent of participating children are either African American or Latino, and 57 percent are covered by Medicaid or qualify for financial assistance. The average age is 12 years, and 60 percent are female.
    • Referral for initial screen: Most children are referred by a primary care or subspecialty physician affiliated with the hospital or a community care provider.
      • Medical and psychosocial screening: Children and parents come in for a 2-hour initial evaluation with shorter followup sessions by a physician or pediatric nurse practitioner, social worker, physical therapist, and dietitian. During these sessions, the child is weighed and measured, and blood pressure, lipids, glucose, hemoglobin A1c, and liver enzymes are tested. The parent and child also talk to care team members about their quality of life and the barriers to weight loss that the family faces because of economic and other challenges. Common issues include the child being bullied at school, having no place safe to play outside, and eating to cope with troubles. The parent may face challenges as well, such as working two jobs, struggling to set limits around eating, and having to travel far from home on public transportation to purchase healthy foods. The family may also lack stable housing or electricity or may be living with a grandparent. Selected children also see the team's clinical child psychologist.
      • Referrals to community-based organizations: After the screening, the family and child may be referred to an appropriate community-based organization that can help. For example, the social worker may refer the family to a Big Brothers, Big Sisters program to support the child or to a program-based child psychologist to strengthen parenting skills. The social worker may call the school to address bullying problems. The dietitian educates parents about key evidence-based nutrition and physical activity contributors to obesity. Together, they review grocery store ads to identify affordable healthy foods and/or refer the parent to the closest food bank. The physical therapist works with the patient to develop goals, which include reducing sedentary, screen time, and increasing physical activity.
      • Enrollment in the program: In addition to the referrals, the team screens the parents and child to see if they are motivated to participate in the weekly group program to develop healthier lifestyles. If they are interested they are invited to join the program. If they are not ready to commit, the family will continue to meet with the clinic team for individual visits.
  • PHIT Kids program components: The program consists of 18 weekly classes followed by 20 monthly maintenance classes. Information provided in June 2014 indicates that the program team recently completed a randomized controlled trial of the original 24-week program versus a condensed 12-week version. Analyses show that the longer format led to greater improvements in body composition while the program completion rate was higher when families were offered the condensed version. In an effort to obtain meaningful clinical results for the largest number of participants, program staff implemented an 18-week program beginning in January of 2013. In the 18-week program, the group is divided into 3 groups for the education portion of the sessions (9- to 12-year-olds, 13- to 18-year-olds, and parents). In addition, program staff meet on a weekly basis to discuss specific families and cases. Program staff have started the Zoom to Health program to better meet the needs of overweight or obese younger patients, a clinic for obese children with special health care needs, and a clinic for children with obesity and multiple comorbidities. Key elements of the PHIT Kids program curriculum are described below:
    • Weekly meetings: The weekly meetings are held during evening hours to accommodate working parents and last for 2 hours. They are held in an easily accessible community location (Center for Children's Healthy Lifestyles and Nutrition) with exercise and cooking facilities. Up to 20 families attend each session.
      • Daily log to document diet and activity: During the 18-week period, everyone is encouraged to keep a daily log to document his or her diet, physical activity, and television/computer "screen" time.
      • Class curriculum: Information provided in June 2014 indicates that on arrival, children and parents are weighed and measured; they then participate in 45 minutes of classes with health educators. With the children, the educators address nutrition and physical activity behaviors, plus behavior-related topics including bullying, goal setting, self-esteem, and dealing with setbacks in an age-appropriate manner. The parent group works on similar topics, including problem-solving issues such as unsafe neighborhoods, poor access to health foods, and ways to deal with other family members who do not support diet and nutrition change.  The classes include at least 30 minutes of group physical activities.
      • Setting measurable, realistic goals: The families reconvene to review the topics that were addressed and to set goals for the next week. Typical weekly goals include achieving three to five servings of fruit and vegetables each day, eating at least four dinners at home that week with the family, and limiting fast food to once a week. Goals are designed to be specific, measurable, and achievable. For example, if a child sets a goal of drinking fewer sugary drinks, the health educator and child structure a way to track the goal. Goals are never weight based; they focus on behaviors related to nutrition and physical activity.
    • Weekly staff brainstorming sessions: The program staff hold weekly team meetings among the program coordinator, health educators, psychologist, medical providers, social workers, physical therapist, and dietitian. They discuss the families participating in the program, sharing perspectives, identifying barriers faced by families, and brainstorming solutions.
    • Monthly maintenance meetings: After the 18 weekly meetings conclude, parents and children meet for 20 consecutive monthly sessions that include clinic visits. The 2-year treatment program also includes follow up clinic visits.
  • Program principles that consider economic realities and integrate cultural practices: All aspects of the program are designed to recognize families' economic challenges and to understand and respect their cultural practices.
    • Recognition of the hierarchy of need and addressing economic issues first: Program staff recognize that if they are not sensitive to families' survival needs, parents cannot devote more attention to their child's weight and nutrition. The following are examples of issues that need to be addressed first, before weight loss can become a goal: housing and food insecurity, unemployment, lack of health insurance, immigration and deportation issues, transportation and communication barriers, neighborhood safety, limited access to grocery stores, and easy access to convenience stores and fast food.
    • Sensitivity to the characteristics and environments of participants: The program matches written materials and messages to the characteristics of the target population to enhance participant receptivity. The program also includes the cultural, social, historical, environmental, and psychological forces that influence the health behavior in the target population.
    • Incorporating cultures of participants: The program staff incorporate each target group's culture into their outreach, training styles, and materials.
      • Tailoring to Latino cultures: For Latino families, classes are available in Spanish and are led by Latino health educators. Some of the many Latino-specific issues that are addressed include the following: child-centered, paternalistic families; permissive parenting styles; meal patterns, including concerns that healthy meals are not tasty; the belief that being overweight is considered healthy; the belief that leaving uneaten food is impolite; and a reluctance to transition to lower fat or nonfat milk.
      • Tailoring to African-American culture: Some of the many African-American–specific issues that are addressed include the following: family-centered focus that involves all family members, collectivism and respect for elders (especially if the child and parent are living with grandparents or older extended family members), overcoming the belief that female caregivers are being selfish if they take time to be physically active, and discussing convenient hairstyles for physically active females.

Context of the Innovation

Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City, MO, is a comprehensive pediatric medical center that offers inpatient and outpatient services to area families. About two-thirds of the clinic's patients are African American or Latino, and 50 percent are covered by Medicaid or qualify for financial assistance. The Promoting Health in Teens and Kids program was developed after health care providers began noticing that many of their young patients were overweight or obese and needed a more intensive family-based approach. The program was a logical extension of Children's Mercy's decision in 2004 to establish a multidisciplinary clinic (PHIT Kids Clinic) that offers medical, nutrition, and psychosocial services to obese children; a portion of existing medical, psychology, nutrition, and social work staff were reassigned to staff this clinic. Clinic organizers realized that poor access to healthy foods, recreational resources, and safe places to play outdoors were major barriers to weight loss and healthy living in this population. They also recognized that interventions had to be culturally sensitive to be effective. Because most existing weight-loss programs and research focused on middle class white families, they decided to develop a program that would be culturally sensitive and address the many socioeconomic issues that serve as major barriers to weight loss for children in these families.

Did It Work?

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Information provided in June 2014 from a recently completed randomized control trial indicates that an evaluation of 356 children (average age of 12 years) who completed the program found a modest reduction in BMI z-score and BMI percentile (relative to other children) and other health-related improvements, including lower triglyceride levels, reduced consumption of sugary beverages, and reduced amount of screen time. Child- and parent-reported weight-related quality of life and behavioral and emotional symptoms improved. Parent weight and BMI also significantly decreased. Analysis of participants followed 12 months after beginning the program revealed a significant decline in BMI z-score from baseline and significant improvements in parent- and child-reported weight-related quality of life. Frequent qualitative assessments of the program quality are conducted.
  • Improved body composition: Information provided in June 2014 indicates that PHIT Kids participants began with an average BMI that put them at the 98.7 percentile (i.e., on average, 98.7 percent of children of the same age and gender had lower BMIs than program participants). By the end of the program, this figure had fallen to 98.5. This improvement in body composition equates to close to a half-point reduction in BMI z-score, from 2.37 to 2.33. 
  • Reduced triglycerides: Healthy triglyceride levels in children aged 9 and older should be under 130 mg/dL. Information provided in June 2014 indicates that triglyceride levels for participants fell from 130 at the start of the program to 115 at the end of program.
  • Reduced consumption of sugary beverages: Information provided in June 2014 indicates that children reduced their consumption of sugary beverages by an average of 0.62 servings per week (from 3.15 to 2.53). 
  • Less screen time: Information provided in June 2014 indicates that by the end of the program, the children watched an average of nearly a half-hour less of TV/video games/computers each day (from 3.28 to 2.90 hours). 
  • Improved quality of life: Information provided in June 2014 indicates that, based on both parent and child reports, children's quality of life related to their weight improved significantly over the course of the program at a level that is considered clinically meaningful (4- to 9-point mean improvements).
  • Decreased behavioral and emotional symptoms: Based on parent and child reports, following the group treatment program, participants experienced fewer symptoms of depression, behavioral difficulties, somatic symptoms, and attention difficulties. 
  • High levels of parent and child satisfaction: Information provided in June 2014 indicates that approximately 88 percent of parents and children reported feeling positive or very positive about the program and that 82 percent of parents and children recommended or strongly recommended the program.

Evidence Rating (What is this?)

Strong: The evidence consists of randomized control trial results as well as pre- and post-implementation measures of a variety of metrics, including body mass index percentiles and behaviors related to physical activity and nutrition.

How They Did It

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Planning and Development Process

Key steps in the planning and development process include the following:
  • Creation of referral system: The hospital created a referral system so that Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics and community primary care providers could refer children if their BMI percentile was above 95 percent and they and their families were motivated for family-based lifestyle changes.
  • Development of culturally appropriate program materials and staffing: Materials were developed, written, and translated for the targeted clientele. African-American and Latino health educators were hired to lead the evening sessions.
  • Applying for grant funding: Program staff recognized that program sustainability had to be addressed. In response, program developers receive support from local foundations for grants to augment hospital support in crafting a culturally sensitive program that provides psychosocial and community assistance to stabilize families in crisis.
  • Adaptations to cultural and socioeconomic realities of the target population: The program's impact was continually monitored, with refinements being made in response to the cultural and socioeconomic realities of the families being served. For example, it was known that working parents could not attend the sessions unless they were held in the evenings, so sessions operate from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Program social workers arrange transportation for families as necessary. Another refinement was made after an outreach program aimed at parents of overweight or obese younger children proved to be difficult, primarily because parents wanted to have their children accompany them to the sessions. As a result, a new clinical research program for these children and their families called Zoom to Health was developed.
  • Negotiating reimbursement from insurers: Although insurers had generally been willing to cover the families' visits to the PHIT Kids clinic, they have not been willing to cover the evening health education and physical activity classes because they were not considered clinical in nature. Weight Management program staff are working to advocate for group program coverage.

Resources Used and Skills Needed

  • Staffing: The evening group program is supported by two part-time clinical child psychologists, a medical director, nurse practitioners, a dietitian, social workers, physical therapists, a nurse manager, and a research coordinator. The program is presented by health educators who have college degrees. The program also relies on Junior League of Greater Kansas City volunteers to help health educators during the evening sessions.
  • Costs: The 2013 budget for the program is $261,904, which consists primarily of salary and benefits for paid program staff.
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Funding Sources

Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics; HealthCare Foundation of Greater Kansas City; Junior League of Greater Kansas City; Private Donors
PHIT Kids receives approximately 90 percent of its funding from Children's Mercy Hospital and 10 percent from local foundations. Although insurers have generally been willing to cover the families' visits to the PHIT Kids Weight Management clinic, they have not been willing to cover the evening health education and physical activity classes because they were not considered clinical in nature. This threatens the sustainability of the group program.end fs

Tools and Other Resources

Barlow SE and the Expert Committee. Expert Committee recommendations regarding the prevention, assessment, and treatment of child and adolescent overweight and obesity: summary report. Pediatrics 2007;120;S164-92. Available at: (If you don't have the software to open this PDF, download free Adobe Acrobat Reader® software External Web Site Policy.).

Planning, building and sustaining a pediatric obesity program: a survival guide. National Association of Children's Hospitals and Related Institutions Focus on a Fitter Future. Available at:

National Initiative for Children's Healthcare Quality [Web site]. Available at:

Adoption Considerations

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Getting Started with This Innovation

  • Solicit hospital or health system participation: Due to high startup costs and the need for in-house expertise and a source of ready referrals, this program likely requires the active participation of a hospital, large outpatient clinic, or integrated health care system.
  • Build partnerships within the health care system: Establish connections with pediatric practices and other health care providers who may be able to refer clients or donate funds or expertise to support the program.
  • Build partnerships within the community: Tap organizations that share an interest in healthy living, children's safety, and reducing childhood obesity. Potential partners include public and private recreation and fitness programs, public safety programs, YMCAs or YWCAs, grocery store chains, health food stores, and other enterprises. Also approach schools and other organizations that might be willing to host evening group meetings.
  • Work with health insurers and local Medicaid administrators: Work with insurers and managed care organizations to raise startup funds and to secure insurance coverage for program services.
  • Assemble and train a weight loss team: To the extent possible, leverage existing staff, including dietitians, social workers, and health educators, to provide program services. Make sure that social workers and health educators know about existing community resources and are aware of the appropriate processes for making referrals to emergency shelters, food banks, local welfare offices, domestic violence shelters, and other agencies as needed.
  • Customize the program for the clientele: Be sensitive to the ethnic and cultural makeup of the target population, including ensuring that educational materials and staff reflect the culture of the patient base.
  • Establish metrics and collect baseline data: Decide which metrics will be measured and collect baseline data from participants on these metrics. Potential metrics include BMI, measures of physical activity and diet (e.g., hours engaged in physical activity, number of meals eaten at home, consumption of sugary beverages, consumption of fruits and vegetables), biometric indicators such as cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and psychosocial indicators such as weight-related quality of life and self-esteem.

Sustaining This Innovation

  • Partner with community organizations: Given the paucity of insurance coverage for this type of weight-loss program, it is important to recruit financial contributions or in-kind services from local community organizations. For example, YMCA and other providers of recreational activities may be willing to provide free memberships to participants.
  • Secure long-term funding from insurers: A lack of Medicaid or private insurance reimbursement for weight-loss services, especially behavioral groups, is a major barrier to sustaining these kinds of programs. Program sponsors should approach local insurers and Medicaid agencies in an effort to convince them to provide reimbursement. In the interim, however, Promoting Health in Teens and Kids and other similar programs must rely on local grants and support from sponsor organizations.
  • Expand referral sources: The program needs referrals from a wide variety of sources to ensure that as many overweight and obese children are identified and treated as possible. One potential referral source is local pediatricians who are not affiliated with the sponsoring organization; these physicians should be approached and educated about the program, including how to refer appropriate patients.
  • Use hospital volunteers during evening programs: As noted, as a way to reduce costs, the program relies heavily on hospital volunteers to assist health educators during the evening sessions.
  • Monitor program impact: Continually monitor the key patient metrics over time to assess the program's impact.

More Information

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Contact the Innovator

Meredith L. Dreyer Gillette, PhD
Clinical Child Psychologist
Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics
2401 Gillham Road
Kansas City, MO 64108
(816) 983-6418

Sarah E. Hampl, MD
Medical Director of Weight Management Services
Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics
2401 Gillham Road
Kansas City, MO 64108
(816) 983-6764

Innovator Disclosures

Drs. Dreyer and Hampl have not indicated whether they have financial interests or business/professional affiliations relevant to the work described in this profile; however, information on funders is available in the Funding Sources section.

References/Related Articles

Wade K, Heydinger E, Blackburn K, Cowden J et al. Predictors of obesity counseling during well child visits. Paper presented at the Pediatrics for the 21st Century conference. Boston, MA: American Academy of Pediatrics; 2011.

Dunlop AL, Leroy Z, Trowbridge FL, et al. Improving providers' assessment and management of childhood overweight: results of an intervention. Ambul Pediatr. 2007;7(6):453-7. [PubMed]

O'Brien S, Holubkov R, Reis E. Identification, evaluation, and management of obesity in an academic primary care center. Pediatrics. 2004;114(2):e154-9. [PubMed]

Hinton T. Child advocacy: a survey of children's hospitals obesity services strive to give children a healthier start. National Association of Children's Hospitals and Related Institutions; Winter 2008. Available at:

Hampl S, Dreyer M. Promoting health in teens and kids. Paper presented at the National Initiative for Children's Healthcare Quality Childhood Obesity Congress, Miami; March 2008.

Hampl S, Dreyer M. PHIT Kids program: promoting health in teens and kids. Paper presented at the Pediatric Academic Society meeting, Toronto, Canada; May 2007.


1 O'Brien S, Holubkov R, Reis E. Identification, evaluation, and management of obesity in an academic primary care center. Pediatrics. 2004;114(2):e154-9. [PubMed]
2 Institute of Medicine. Childhood obesity in the United States: facts and figures. September 2004. Available at:
3 Hampl S, Dreyer M. PHIT Kids program: promoting health in teens and kids. Paper presented at the Pediatric Academic Society meeting, Toronto, Canada; May 2007.
4 Hinton T, Barsanti A. Child advocacy: a survey of children's hospitals obesity services strive to give children a healthier start. National Association of Children's Hospitals and Related Institutions; Winter 2008. Available at:
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Disclaimer: The inclusion of an innovation in the Innovations Exchange does not constitute or imply an endorsement by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, or Westat of the innovation or of the submitter or developer of the innovation. Read more.

Original publication: September 15, 2008.
Original publication indicates the date the profile was first posted to the Innovations Exchange.

Last updated: August 13, 2014.
Last updated indicates the date the most recent changes to the profile were posted to the Innovations Exchange.

Date verified by innovator: June 06, 2014.
Date verified by innovator indicates the most recent date the innovator provided feedback during the annual review process. The innovator is invited to review, update, and verify the profile annually.