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Paloma Suarez, director of pediatric wellness and care navigation at Boston Community Pediatrics, leads an online cooking class.

Healthy in the City is a community-based program that helps eliminate barriers that can make it difficult for families to meet their child’s health and weight goals. It’s one strategy that Boston Children’s is utilizing to address childhood obesity and make healthy food and activities more accessible for families. Through Healthy in the City, Boston Children’s provides support and partners with 11 community health centers in Boston. This support ensures the health centers are able to provide case management services within their pediatric practices and also offer on-site activities and links to community resources that promote healthy eating and active living. Case managers at each health center build and maintain relationships with families. This is critically important to understanding a family’s unique needs and developing the best approaches to support them.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, case managers found innovative ways to stay connected to families knowing that ongoing support is key to achieving and maintaining behavior changes. Telehealth is one that has proven useful. Phone calls and virtual visits lend to more frequent communication between patients and health center staff. “We find these methods are often more convenient than coming into the clinic for many families,” says Paloma Suarez, Director of Pediatric Wellness and Care Navigation at Boston Community Pediatrics.

The health centers also have adapted some of their on-site activities and programming to a virtual format. Every Healthy in the City site offers cooking classes to deliver nutrition education in a fun, hands-on way and equip families with the knowledge, skills, and confidence to make nutritious meals at home. The virtual format allows for more patients to participate and in the comfort of their own kitchen. “Participants are all learning to make the same recipe and have the same ingredients provided by the practice,” says Suarez. “It’s been incredible to see how the camaraderie of the participation in this group experience has developed and sustained even on Zoom.”

In addition to cooking classes, some sites like the Mattapan Community Health Center have hosted virtual exercise classes for program participants. Every Saturday morning, children log onto Zoom and spend one hour with a certified fitness instructor to get moving and learn fun, easy ways to exercise — no equipment needed. This has been a particularly important resource for families who have struggled to find recreational opportunities for children during the pandemic.

Like many others, Boston Children’s and its health center partners have worked to adjust the way its program is implemented while continuing to make progress on our goal to reduce childhood obesity rates. In 2021, 60 percent of Healthy in the City participants decreased or maintained their Body Mass Index. Statistically significant changes were also observed in the dietary patterns (increased consumption of fruits and vegetables; decreased consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and fast food) and exercise habits (increased time spent exercising; decreased screen time) of program participants. Read more about Healthy in the City here.

Click here for a recorded conversation between Marisa Otis, Program Coordinator at Boston Children's, and Paloma from Boston Community Pediatrics.