Camille Jeffrey felt she was doing everything possible to maintain her daughter Makayla’s weight but despite her best efforts, it continued to increase. During a doctor’s visit, the five-year-old was identified as being in the top percentile for her BMI and age, when she was weighed for medication purposes. “My GP asked me if I was concerned about my daughter’s weight and I said ‘yes I am, but I don’t know what else I can do about it,’ as I felt like we were doing all the right things,” Camille says. “So we started six-weekly weigh-ins with Makayla, which showed her weight was increasing, even though we felt her diet was good.”
The general practitioner referred Camille to Group Lifestyle Triple P, a free parenting course that focuses on behavioural change, nutrition and physical activity advice for the whole family. The aim is to help parents develop effective strategies for managing their child’s weight, by introducing gradual permanent changes to their family’s lifestyle. “Even though I felt I was a few steps ahead of most other attendees in terms of diet and healthy eating, it was a really positive experience for me,” Camille says. “Some of the things we learnt about, such as portion sizes, fat and fibre, hidden sugar and how to read the food labels, was really helpful – it was great to get an understanding of that side of things, which can often trip people up. And some of the other things we learnt were techniques I had tried before, but the course gave me the confidence to use them and succeed.”
Camille was one of the first in New Zealand to complete the 17-week Group Lifestyle Triple P programme, earlier this year. Her husband Carl stayed home with their two children while she attended, one evening a week. “I’ve managed to discuss most of the strategies I learnt with him, but I think it would be really beneficial for both parents to complete the programme together.” The parenting strategies had a flow-on effect and were helpful overall – not just when it comes to food, diet and maintaining a healthy weight, she says. “I learnt alternative ways to deal with the children, as I realised I was shouting and yelling at them a lot. Using these techniques means there are now not as many meltdowns. We’ve learnt how to deal with them in a more encouraging way, other than using food as praise or a reward. This really helped me as a parent.”
The course is interspersed with breaks throughout, to give the parents a chance to implement what they’ve learnt at home. She says support is available all the way through, including phone calls at home, and there is no judgement from the Triple P practitioners or other parents. “We are all encouraged to be supportive and open with each other. It was really good – if one parent was struggling with a certain issue, then as a group we could talk and come up with ideas to help resolve it.”
Camille says Makayla is a lot more active than she was and is no longer gaining weight. “The best thing about it was getting my daughter to be more active, so we can get her on the same physical level as her peers at school – she’s not there yet, but it’s making a huge difference. Even though I felt like I knew a lot, I still got so much out of it. There is no way you can step backwards after attending a course like this – you can only go forward.”
Group Lifestyle Triple P is one of a suite of referral options made available by district health boards through the South Island Alliance for GPs to refer at-risk children and their families. The programme is currently available in Canterbury, with plans underway for Nelson. Other referral options used across the South Island include BeSmarter, a parent/child friendly resource used as a way to start conversations about health and goal-setting.