After almost a year of following a healthy diet and exercise regimen, it's hard to believe that 11-year-old Catarina Mendes of North Arlington, NJ, was ever overweight. Her mother Graciete has noticed a great change in her daughter. "She is more confident about herself," said Mrs. Mendes. "She cares about what she eats and takes the time to exercise and maintain healthy habits."

Graciete credits the Aetna/Clara Maass Child and Adolescent Weight Management Program for her daughter's success. The program, made possible by a grant from the Aetna Foundation to Clara Maass Medical Center, affords participating children and their families the opportunity to work with pediatricians and a registered dietician to develop and adopt healthy nutrition and lifestyle habits. The program includes nutritional assessment, meal planning, and follow-up nutrition education. Each participant also receives a free year-long membership to the Montclair YMCA to make sure that healthy eating is accompanied by exercise.

"We congratulate Catarina, her family, and all the children in the Aetna/Clara Maass Child and Adolescent Weight Management Program for their participation in the program and their commitment to establishing healthier eating and exercise habits," said Anne Beal, MD MPH, president of the Aetna Foundation. "We are working to understand the root causes of childhood obesity, and find the most effective means of helping children achieve a healthier weight. This program is adding to our understanding of what can work well for children, and at the same time it is helping both Clara Maass and the Aetna Foundation meet our shared goal of promoting healthier communities."

According to The Obesity Society, in the past 30 years, the occurrence of overweight in children has doubled and it is now estimated that one in five children in the US is overweight. Some risks associated include type 2 diabetes, abnormal glucose tolerance and insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, and overweight status as adults.

Though not very overweight, Catarina's pediatrician felt that she was headed down a road to be at risk for overweight-associated complications and referred her to the program at CMMC.

"When Catarina first came to see me, she had little understanding about healthy eating or why it was important for her," said Rita Singer, RD, the Aetna Foundation funded Outpatient Pediatric Dietitian at Clara Maass Medical Center. "After the first visit, she actually gained a few pounds because while she adopted a few of my suggestions, she overcompensated in other unhealthy habits. This experience helped her mother and her understand the true importance of making 'lifestyle' changes, not just changing one or two eating habits."

One month later, after adopting her new healthy lifestyle regimen—healthier snacks, exercise and portion control—Catarina lost 7 lbs. This weight loss inspired Catarina to stay on a healthy track, opting for celery sticks over potato chips and bringing a healthy bagged lunch to school, rather than choosing from the cafeteria menu.

"After we weighed her," said Ms. Singer, "she left that visit not only feeling very proud of her accomplishments and with an elevated level of self esteem, but also with the knowledge of what healthy eating meant and that it wasn't so difficult to achieve after all."

In addition to her healthy eating habits, Catarina takes time to exercise and goes to the Montclair YMCA every Saturday and Sunday, spending most of her time in the pool. "I really like to swim," she said.

Since her start with the program Catarina has lost approximately 10 lbs. and continues on with her healthy lifestyle changes. When asked what her favorite part of the program is, Catarina says, "When Rita weighs me and I see that I have lost weight. It's nice to see that the changes I have made are working."