She Took Action to Help Kids With Obesity
One in an ongoing series.
Peggy Krepto was concerned about some of the children who were patients at the medical practice where she worked. So many were obese and susceptible to becoming adults plagued by chronic disease.
“There are so many kids with this issue,” says Krepto, Clinical Care Coordinator at Einstein Physicians Montgomery. The practice includes Montgomery Family Practice, North Wales Family Medicine and Trappe Pediatrics.
“One in three children in Montgomery County is overweight or obese – more than the national average,” she says. “If you let it go, they are likely to grow into unhealthy adults and develop diabetes, fatty liver and heart problems, to name a few.”
How, she wondered, could she help change that destiny?
It is not that obesity had personal resonance with her. She has always been a healthy eater and it did not impact her children, either. But she knew obesity had long-term consequences and felt compelled to do something.
A First Try, With Waiting Lists
At first, Krepto enlisted a now defunct county program that sent a dietician and pediatrician to make a presentation to the practice and brought handouts about healthy eating and exercise for families.
Once the children were screened for underlying conditions, Krepto then referred the families to a childhood obesity program at another facility. But the program could not handle the numbers of children she referred.
“It would be a month wait, and then it turned into two or three months,” Krepto says. “I seemed to be hitting many obstacles and was starting to lose hope.”
But she had more than 100 children falling into the obesity range, who needed intervention. “I couldn’t give up, ” she says. “I had to find alternatives.”
Enter Patricia Crane, physical therapy manager at MossRehab’s Plymouth Meeting and Norristown offices, who responded immediately to Krepto’s outreach about the obesity program. “It wasn’t until I spoke to Trish that I finally had a breakthrough,” Krepto says. “Trish and the others at Moss Rehab are as passionate about this as I am.”
Crane advised Krepto that most health insurance plans would cover physical therapy for children diagnosed with obesity. Krepto, Crane and J. Federico Andino, MD, created a pilot project, the Pediatric Healthy Lifestyle Program (PHLP).
They started with 10 children. “After all these years of trying – I was so excited,” Krepto says.
Swimming and Exercises at Moss
The program is for 8- to 12-year-olds who are in the 95th percentile or above for weight. They individually attend the MossRehab facility in Norristown, twice a week, for eight weeks. They spend one of the two sessions swimming in the therapy pool, and the second one doing exercises with physical therapist Amanda Ricci.
The pilot project began in November of 2020 and continued throughout COVID. The second group of children started at the end of March.
Krepto says Dr. Andino examines the children and then refers them to her. “I’ll call the families and see how interested they are in the program, and set up their appointment with Moss,” she says. So far, all the families are Latino, and Krepto uses a Spanish language interpreter to work with them.
It is too early to measure the program’s impact, but Krepto says the children who participated have either lost a slight amount of weight or stayed stable. But they never miss an appointment, and their enthusiasm is measurable.
“What I have seen in this short period of time is the excitement, enthusiasm and the light in their eyes,” Krepto says. “For the first time, the kids are eager to exercise at home after going through the program and are more mindful about what they eat.”
Kathy Rafter, Krepto’s manager at Einstein, notes that the program is not funded by Einstein Montgomery. “This is something Peggy does on the side for these children,” she says. “Peggy is very generous with her time to support these children.”
A Keeper of the Dream
MossRehab’s Crane was so impressed with Krepto’s mission that she nominated her for a Martin Luther King Keeper of the Dream Award earlier this year – and Krepto won.
“Peggy has worked tirelessly with the families, dedicating her own time to ensure that the program is successful, and the kids are learning how to empower themselves to make healthy choices,” Crane says.
“Her gentle and caring nature has allowed her to be successful with addressing a sensitive topic for these kids and turning it into an opportunity. The families in this program have described Peggy as their angel on Earth.”
Krepto is looking for angels herself – to provide resources and funding to expand the program.
“It’s a personal mission of mine now,” she says, “and I can’t let it go.”