Kids and their families learn together to develop healthy lifestyles

October 11, 2018

Melanie Brennan has found a proven recipe to help overweight and obese kids ages 6 to 12 and their families learn about and adopt healthier lifestyles. It’s called KidShape.

Kids and their families attend six two-hour sessions. They prepare and taste healthy foods. They move energetically and learn about the importance of heart-rate-raising exercise. They make goals about healthy choices and learn strategies to stay on track.

The program is offered through ExercisAbilities, a physical therapy and rehabilitation organization in Rochester, Minn., that helps clients reach their optimal health. Brennan, a physical therapist, founded the organization in 2011 with a special emphasis on serving everyone, including clients with physical, medical or cognitive disabilities. The group’s work has been supported with grants from Mayo Clinic.

A holistic approach to treat obesity

“KidShape serves a critical need,” says Brian Lynch, M.D., head of the Mayo Clinic Primary Care Obesity Task Force. About one in five children in the U.S. are obese, and numbers are increasing. Childhood obesity rates in Rochester mirror national trends.

Children who are obese are at higher risk for what were once considered adult health concerns — diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Children who are obese are at higher risk for depression and poor self-esteem, too.
“Treating the childhood obesity epidemic requires a multifaceted, holistic approach,” says Dr. Lynch. KidShape is the only community program of its kind in Southeast Minnesota.

“The program brings education on food, exercise, parenting and lifestyle choices in one setting that is manageable for families,” he says. KidShape curriculum was developed by a team of experts in nutrition, exercise and behavior change. Its effectiveness has been validated in studies.

Families recommend KidShape

The first 12 families completed the KidShape in July 2018, and feedback indicated a big success. “One hundred percent of the adult participants said they would recommend the program,” says Brennan. “One mom shared that her child makes better choices without reminders and is more open to trying new foods.”

Brennan says that success is not measured in weight loss — because the children are still growing. The goal is to lower the child’s body mass index (BMI) percentile. A body mass index in the 85 percentile is considered overweight. A BMI of 95th percentile or higher is considered obese.

Learn more and sign up

Brennan’s next goal is to spread the word about KidShape to families and care providers. “We know there’s a need,” she says. “And we know that the program helps families.”

  • KidShape is for overweight or obese children whose BMI is at the 85th percentile or higher.
  • Physicians can refer their patients, or families can self-refer.
  • KidShape is covered by most insurance. KidShape staff will coordinate with insurers to determine coverage.
  • A new group is starting Oct. 4, 2018.
  • Contact KidShape staff at 507-259-7570; or visit