The Welcome Home They Deserve

The Welcome Home They Deserve

Mealtime is often the first battleground between parents and their little ones.

Enticing your child to eat the healthy meal you’ve prepared can be one of the greatest challenges of parenthood. It could also be the deciding factor in whether your child is at risk to join the growing epidemic of childhood obesity, which affects up to 52 percent of children in Orange County, according to a joint UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and California Center for Public Health Advocacy study.

Dr. Patricia Ronald Riba, author of the newly-released “Fit Kids Revolution: The Parent’s Diet-Free Guide to Raising Healthy & Fit Children,” predicts a grim future for these kids: “We have children growing up with medical complications like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and sleep apnea. We’re even seeing kids with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and doctors are saying they will need transplants in 30 years.”

Dr. Riba knows from experience that there’s no escaping the long-term impact of childhood obesity. That’s why she founded Serving Kids Hope (formally known as Dr. Riba’s Health Club), an organization helping vulnerable children and families avoid nutrition-related health problems.

Serving Kids Hope offers a variety of programs aimed at addressing the health needs of children at greatest risk for obesity and diabetes. Over the past year, the organization saw more than 5,300 children, and through their patient care program more than 80 percent of these patients successfully lowered their body mass index (BMI) percentile. 

“If these families– who have limited access to healthy foods and safe play areas for their kids– can do this, any family can,” she said. 

Of course, Dr. Riba instills basic concepts such as stocking up on fresh fruits and vegetables, but what sets her program apart is that she teaches families to think of the dinner table as a base camp for making their families feel loved. 

“Nourish your child with love and attention, not just food,” she encouraged. 

It’s fitting that February is National Heart Month, created by the American Heart Association to focus attention on the fact that obesity is one of the leading risk factors causing heart disease — and is totally preventable, especially among children. 

“Putting healthy food options on the table, allowing the child to choose what he/she likes, and encouraging active play are all important steps in giving children a healthy start,” states Christina Altmayer of The Children and Families Commission of Orange County, the result of the California Children and Families Act of 1998. The Commission funds education, health and child development programs for children, from the prenatal stage through age 5. 

Experts at the Commission believe the best way to eradicate the childhood obesity epidemic is to focus on prevention through education. Since 2004, the majority of its funding has supported programs that develop or expand health services for young children — always reinforced with education aimed at lowering nutrition-related health problems across the county.

“We encourage educating parents because when you know better, you do better,” she said. 

To learn more about local nonprofits helping Orange County’s children grow up fit and healthy, visit Nonprofit Central.


Shelley Hoss is president of the Orange County Community Foundation. She can be reached at [email protected].

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