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“Healthy Eating Active Living” Pilot Helps Local Families

Mar 12, 2019, 11:45 AM by Nicole Young
Dr. Mendoza developed the “Healthy Eating Active Living” four-week pilot course along with physical therapist Lillian Donner, DPT. The two connected as new Sansum Clinic employees and soon discovered their mutual passion for children and health.
Physical Therapist Lillian Donner and Dr. Marilyn Mendoza

When Melynda Velasquez and her two daughters discuss their health with pediatrician Dr. Marilyn Mendoza, they all agree the talks feel more like honest conversations than lectures. “Dr. Mendoza involves the girls and engages them. She has great ideas and approaches to weight management,” shares Melynda. When the physician suggested that her family attend a fun, summer pilot program focused on healthy eating and exercise, they eagerly signed up. “We try to be mindful of how much attention we bring to the issue of weight and the words we use. I try to make it more like a natural part of life,” she explains. “I liked that the program sounded like a healing, healthy type of lifestyle change.”

Dr. Mendoza developed the “Healthy Eating Active Living” 4-week pilot course along with physical therapist Lillian Donner. The two connected as new Sansum Clinic employees and soon discovered their mutual passion for children and health.

Dr. Mendoza began to notice that regular pediatric appointments didn’t allow enough time to address in detail any diet or exercise shortfalls. “I thought we needed to develop something here. A lot of kids in need were being sent to endocrinologists or to a one-time nutrition visit. It was not really getting anywhere. It wasn’t enough,” she admits. After shepherding a similar health program at a Santa Ana clinic during her residency at UC Irvine, Dr. Mendoza knew the right kind of education could be effective in breaking habits that can cause weight gain. Lillian relayed to Dr. Mendoza how she often treated young children who battled physical pain and disability due to weight. She surmised that if these patients and their parents could become better-informed, behavior changes would likely happen. The friends determined to write a course curriculum of their own that combined fun with the creative delivery of important facts.

Their two-person team worked for three months to bring the idea to life, buoyed by the support of Health Education Director Margaret Weiss. In July, eight families and their kids attended weekly, 90-minute sessions at Sansum Clinic’s Foothill and Surgical Center building. Each hands-on class highlighted a different issue like reading food labels, preparing healthy meals, managing portion control and shopping smartly for nutritious foods. “We tried to make everything we talked about as applicable as possible, like how to fit in quick workouts or cook a quick meal as a family with a busy lifestyle,“ notes Lillian. They adjusted the classes after each week, adding in what worked and removing what didn’t. The children especially liked the playful, physical activity games, yummy snacks like fruit popsicles, trail mix or smoothies and the prizes for those who carefully filled out their food logs. Melynda, her husband, David and daughters Catalina (16) and Isabella (12) enjoyed the meetings and began to incorporate what they learned at home. “In the past, I have been more of the motivator but because we did the class together, I think they remember it. I am saying what they already heard and experienced themselves which makes it more meaningful,” she reports. When Dr. Mendoza and Lillian sought feedback from the parents who attended, many said they’d like the chance to do weigh-ins before and after the classes. They did use the shared recipes and became more cognizant of what they fed their families. “Many of these parents wanted to learn more to combat diabetes, hypertension and other health issues but until now, they either didn’t have the resources or the time,” suggests Dr. Mendoza. “We know there is a domino effect and it does affect their children.” Assuming support for the pilot class continues, their dream goals include holding two courses per year, inviting a health coach or diabetic educator to attend and recruiting outside instructors to introduce families to new physical activities like dance or yoga. With follow-up an important part of staying on track, Dr. Mendoza would love to have the ability to check back with participants once they complete the class to see how they are faring with meals and exercise. Another bucket list item for the program would be a way for clinic staff to easily flag potential candidates for the course in the Epic computer software system. Once marked within a medical chart, a list could perhaps be created of those patients who might benefit from the course curriculum.

Lillian and Dr. Mendoza are back at their day jobs now, but are looking forward to the opportunity to collaborate again on work they feel is critical for the community. “We fed off each other. We made it happen and it just worked out,” adds Lillian.