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Aiden Abel Hepburn, 12, started going to Clinique 180 in August and has so far shed 10 kilograms.
Allen McInnis / Montreal Gazette
Losing weight had always been a struggle for 12-year-old Aiden Abel Hepburn. Last summer, Aiden’s weight ballooned to more than 190 pounds.
He was tiring more quickly and he soon realized he could no longer swing from the monkey bars in his neighbourhood park in the town of L’Épiphanie, northeast of Montreal.
He was suffering from a fatty liver, just as his father and grandfather before him. If he kept on gaining weight, he would soon develop adult onset diabetes while in his teens.
“It was too much for him,” confessed Aiden’s mother, Jasmine Hepburn.
Aiden’s predicament is not unique. Experts estimate that up to 30 per cent of Quebec children are overweight. That’s 500,000 kids. What’s more, 10 per cent of the pediatric population has now crossed the threshold into obesity.
Yet despite what pediatricians are calling a growing childhood obesity epidemic in Quebec, the provincial government has done very little to address the crisis, the founder of a network of private clinics charged on Thursday.
“There are a lot of complications of obesity in kids, and we need some investment from the government to treat more people, because our waiting lists are now up to one year,” Dr. Julie St-Pierre said at a news conference at her Clinique 180 on Mont-Royal Ave. E.
“I’ve seen children as young as four years old develop Type 2 diabetes. It’s awful.”
Although pediatric hospitals have set up bariatric teams to help teens prepare for weight-loss surgery, there are no multidisciplinary public clinics devoted exclusively to treating childhood obesity with an emphasis on prevention, added St-Pierre, who is also an associate professor of pediatrics at McGill University.
In 2011, St-Pierre decided to fill that void by establishing a private childhood obesity clinic in Chicoutimi. Since then, she has opened clinics in Montreal and Quebec City. Despite the fact that the clinics are private, St-Pierre raises about $150,000 a year to help provide treatment free of charge to low-income families.
St-Pierre noted that a dollar in obesity prevention ends up saving $6 in health-care costs five years later. Yet she lamented that the government has been uninterested in investing in prevention so far.
“We’ve done many presentations to the (Quebec Health Ministry) since January 2017, and nothing has happened,” she added.
Parents at the news conference shared testimonials about how the multidisciplinary approach at the clinic — which involves a nutritionist, pediatrician, kinesiologist, psychologist and social worker following patients closely — has helped their children shed weight and adopt a much healthier lifestyle.
Fortunately for Aiden, he was referred to Clinique 180 in August and has so far shed 10 kilograms. “I can now play on the monkey bars,” he said.
Aiden’s mother suggested that Quebec’s health network follow the model set up at Clinique 180. “From the time my son came here, it’s been a whole new ball game. Everything is working out.”
Last month, St-Pierre was among the 223 Quebec pediatricians who wrote an open letter to Premier François Legault urging the government to invest massively in childhood obesity prevention in order to avert “the worst health epidemic of the 21st century.”
Alexandre Lahaie, press attaché to Health Minister Danielle McCann, said the government is willing to consider the issues raised by pediatricians about childhood obesity.
“The minister is very concerned about the problem of obesity, especially obesity in children,” Lahaie said. “We have to continue the efforts of prevention and raising awareness about the importance of proper nutrition and a healthy lifestyle. We have to do better and we have to do more.”