Knowledge is Power: Weight-Loss Program Helps Kids Fight Obesity

“I feel happier, and I can do a lot more now before getting tired,” Ryan said. “I received a lot of support from my family and at POWER Kids. I feel like the people in the program are my friends now. I would definitely recommend the program to others.”

By the time Ryan Casale visited his pediatrician in January 2014, he was ready to do something about his weight. Poor eating habits and a sedentary lifestyle had the Floral Park teen tipping the scale at 212 pounds. Ryan, then a high school junior, was feeling sluggish.

And he had started to worry.

Both of Ryan’s parents have struggled with their weight. His father had to have several cardiac stents placed in 2007 to treat coronary artery disease. His mother had weight-loss surgery in 2009. Ryan didn’t want to be next.

Taking the First Step

“His father had problems with his heart, and Ryan saw what I went through in the past,” said Ms. Casale. “I had complications from my weight-loss surgery, and I ultimately had to have my gallbladder removed. Ryan wants to make sure he’s healthy for the future.”

Ryan’s parents learned about a weight management program for children and adolescents at Cohen Children’s Medical Center. With help from the team, Ryan dramatically changed his lifestyle and dropped 32 pounds.

The program at Cohen Children’s is called POWER Kids, staffed by a small group of professionals in pediatric and adolescent medicine fighting obesity one child at a time.

Reducing the Risk for Health Problems

“We know that children and adolescents who are overweight or obese are more likely to become overweight or obese as adults,” said Ronald Feinstein, MD, a pediatrician at Cohen Children’s and program director for POWER Kids. “These overweight and obese children and adolescents are more likely to be teased and bullied, resulting in a poorer quality of life.

“Overweight or obese adults are at a greater risk for a number of serious health problems, such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke,” he said. “Our goal is to provide patients with the necessary tools to maintain a healthy lifestyle. That means helping them learn to eat healthier and increase their physical activity.”

In addition to Dr. Feinstein, the POWER Kids staff includes a nutritionist, Stephanie Di Figlia-Peck, and a program coordinator, Yalda Wahab. Through a series of eight educational sessions, patients learn about good nutrition, meal planning, eating on the go, incorporating more movement into their daily routine and much more.

Promoting “Real Food”

“Kids may tell me about three, four or five snacks they eat, but it’s not real food,” said Ms. Di Figlia-Peck. “We try to help them understand the importance of whole grains, minimally processed foods and how they can still eat out with their friends but opt for healthier alternatives.”

Ms. Di Figlia-Peck also uses social media to share recipes, tips and motivational messages with her patients. “We understand that our families’ busy schedules can make it difficult for them to see us in person,” she said. “Social media enables us to stay connected and is a reminder that we’re there for them.”

Small Changes Add Up

Ryan said POWER Kids has taught him to think more carefully about his food choices. For breakfast, Ryan traded his chocolate chip muffin for a protein shake or fruit smoothie his mother prepares. He eats more vegetables and protein at dinner rather than picking at his meal and heading straight for the junk food afterward. He still enjoys treats, but eats them in moderation and less often. Ryan also drinks more water, which he enhances with no-calorie flavorings.

He’s much more active, too. Ryan’s main form of exercise used to be his school’s marching band, but when the season was over, so was his physical activity. He now has a job stocking shelves in a pharmacy a few times a week. He’s also a junior volunteer firefighter and volunteers with his school’s chapter of buildOn, a nonprofit organization that builds schools in developing countries.

Looking Ahead

After graduation in late June, Ryan will head to Molloy College. He is looking forward to becoming a junior high or high school math teacher.


Get Fit!

Is your child or adolescent ready to start the journey to better health and wellness? For more information about the POWER Kids weight-management program, visit


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