Questions and Answers about Lighten Up

Vincent Pera Jr., MD, Explains Lighten Up, a Weight Loss Program for Teens

A smiling teenage girl sits in a library

Contact Us

Many insurers cover most of the care patients receive while participating in Lighten Up.

Call or email for more information about how this program can help your adolescent child.

Phone: 401-793-8790

Email: kerri.costa@lifespan.org 

Location

1377 South County Trail, Unit 1
East Greenwich, RI 02818
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The Center for Weight and Wellness, a program of The Miriam Hospital, offers treatment for moderately to severely overweight adolescents at its East Greenwich office.

In our Lighten Up program, a care team consisting of a medical provider, psychologist, registered dietitian, and exercise physiologist work together to address teens’ medical, behavioral, nutritional, and exercise needs and support them in their weight loss journey.

Vincent Pera Jr., MD, is medical and program director of the Center for Weight and Wellness. He answers a few questions to explain how Lighten Up helps middle and high schoolers lose weight and achieve a healthier lifestyle.

What is the goal when treating adolescent patients?

We’re trying to help adolescents lose some weight and probably more important, learn how to eat in a healthier way — to be in control of their eating and to have the tools to maintain this new, healthier lifestyle that includes plenty of physical activity and good sleep habits.

How common is it for adolescents to be overweight or obese?

About one in three children or teens in our country are overweight or obese — that’s about three times as many as in 1963. Nearly 19 percent, or about 13.7 million children and adolescents, meet the standard for obesity.

Lifestyle behaviors that contribute to their weight gain are consuming high-calorie, less nutritious food, inadequate exercise, too much screen time, and poor sleep habits.

What kind of medical issues can being overweight cause?

Just as in adults, carrying excess weight can take a toll on young people, who may experience high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and elevated blood cholesterol — all risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Sleep apnea and asthma are potential problems. Obese kids are highly likely to stay obese throughout their lives, with continued negative impact on their health.

Furthermore, children who are obese are more prone to low self-esteem, negative body image and depression. The stigma associated with overweight spurs teasing and bullying, not only by schoolmates but sometimes family members as well.

How does the program for teens differ from the approach used for adults?

The approach of Lighten Up differs in a number of ways from our program for adults who are overweight.

To determine the calorie needs for adolescents, the nutritionist takes into account a number of variables, such as weight, height, age, and stage of development. The caloric requirement to maintain their current body weight is calculated and then we determine how much of a reduction is needed to allow the teen to lose weight effectively, but at a rate that is safe and healthy.

With adults, the calculation is more strictly based on weight, since there are no issues with development.

The other main difference is that in the adult program, we offer three tracks: the full liquid diet, the partial liquid diet or modified fast, and the lean program, which is all food. With adolescents, the nutritionist designs a traditional plan of three meals a day plus a snack, or, in consultation with the parent and teen, substitutes the supplement for one or two of the meals.

Substituting the supplement for a snack or a meal changes the teen’s thinking — from “What should I have: cheese, crackers, peanuts?” to just “It’s time to have a shake.” It helps patients adapt to a regimen that provides proper nutrition and lowers calories, and assists them in sticking to the plan.

How do the group sessions come into play?

Group sessions have been structured to be enjoyable, to be something the teens look forward to coming to. These aren’t formal lectures, though they are aimed at education. The sessions include hands-on activities that help young people develop skills and put them into action, such as how to choose foods which are more healthy or less healthy, and to learn why.

The idea is not to say, “You can never have these foods.” What we want to get across is, “This list of foods is very healthy, and you can have them much more frequently. You can still have foods from the ‘less healthy’ list, but less often and in smaller portions.”

In addition, we hold voluntary groups for parents to give them the tools to create a supportive environment for their teen. Parents are part of the care team. They need to be on board to encourage their son or daughter and provide the foods that will be more helpful in their endeavor to lose weight.

Do I need a referral from my child’s doctor?

Parents are welcome to call or email us to learn whether the Lighten Up program is right for their teenager. Some insurers may require a referral from their pediatrician or primary care physician. You can call 401- 793-8790 or email kerri.costa@lifespan.org for more information

Learn more about the Lighten Up program »