MEND is the Prescription for Healthy Children

May 20th, 2016

A Dream Delivered: The Community Health Center Movement in Denver From the Civil Rights Act to the Affordable Care Act
By: Eileen Welsome

Prescription: MEND 2x a Week

Jessica Wallace is a physician assistant at Montbello Family Health Center, but she looks more like a yoga instructor as she strides through the clinic in capris and a t-shirt. Trim and energetic, Wallace oversees a promising new educational and fitness program for overweight children called MEND. The acronym stands for Mind (educating kids and parents about unhealthy attitudes toward food); Exercise (teaching people how to maintain an active lifestyle); Nutrition (how to select foods that are healthy, tasty and nutritious); and Do It! (putting the program into action).

MEND was founded in the United Kingdom and partners with numerous community organizations throughout the United States. About a year ago, MEND approached Denver Health officials and asked them if they were interested in establishing a program. Wallace, who obtained her physician assistant degree and master’s from George Washington University, had done a lot of work around obesity issues at her old job and was eager to give it a try.

MEND is a 10-week program for kids and families and consists of lectures, homework and physical exercise. Classes are two hours long and held twice a week in the evenings. The MEND classes began at the Westside health center and plans were underway to expand to other sites. “The program is focused on fun. It’s not drills, it’s not competitive sports, it’s games and keeping them fun and interesting in a way so kids don’t get intimidated,” said Wallace.

The data is just starting to come in but the results are promising. The kids are scoring higher on self-esteem tests and changing their eating habits at home. They’ve also been losing weight and their fitness levels are increasing. “When you tell parents their kids’ health could be potentially affected down the road, the parents are often very motivated. In theory, you’re making changes that will benefit the whole family and you’re not doing it in a way that ostracizes the kids,” Wallace said. “I can tell you from personal experience, we would not get families to come to 20 sessions if the kid wasn’t enjoying being there. The parent makes the decision to bring the kids to the program but often it’s the kid who says, “Tonight’s class. Let’s go.”

Being able to refer patients to an in-house program like MEND sends the message to parents that exercise and nutritious foods are as important as vaccinations and regular health exams. “As busy providers, we see lots of people and there is not a lot of time to delve into these issues,” she said. “Having the program in a clinic reduces barriers. Providers need it. Patients need it. It benefits everyone.”

Wallace said that the benefits from MEND can last a lifetime. “It’s not something that goes away when the money is gone. It’s an integral part of how Denver Health deals with overweight patients and it’s as much a part of what we do as cardiac health,” she said. “This is preventive care. This is public health at its core.”