A National Resource to Support Excellence in Community Action
Last Revised: Mar 04, 2011 - Initial Posting: Dec 17, 2007

Lake Community Action Agency established the SHAPEDOWN Program to promote health and wellness among low-income children and their families.


The Lake Community Action Agency (LCAA) offers the SHAPEDOWN Program to help children and teens change their food and exercise habits, improve their self esteem and lose unwanted pounds.  The SHAPEDOWN Model was developed by faculty members of the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine and includes contributions from nutrition, exercise physiology, endocrinology, psychology, family therapy, adolescent medicine, family medicine and behavioral and developmental pediatrics.

LCAA provides SHAPEDOWN at no cost to low-income children and their parents who would usually be charged at least $300 by providers of similar programs.  Participants are recruited through Head Start, school nurses, public health offices, physicians, faith-based organizations, and LCAA’s case management network.  The program is provided through four 10-week cycles each year.  A variety of topics are covered such as:

  • Getting Started, Understanding Weight, and Checking in with Feelings
  • Moving into Action and Shifting Toward Lighter Foods
  • Simulating Change with Positives and Prompting Physical Activity
  • Setting Limits and More on Healthful Eating
  • Stocking Up on Food Ideas and Building a Sense of Well-Being
  • Eating on the Run
  • Helping Kids to Speak Up and Making Family Activities Physical
  • Creating a Healthy Family Eating Style
  • Encouraging and Active Lifestyle and Enjoying Special Occasion Eating
  • Assessing Your Progress After SHAPEDOWN

Workshops are conducted during after-school programs to eliminate additional transportation costs and to facilitate attendance.  Sessions are also held at the LCAA Family Resource justify.  LCAA integrates ethnic, cultural and economic differences into the program content and participant workbooks include examples of a broad range of family types including single parents and blended families.

There are four program levels and each level is sensitive to the physical, emotional, cognitive and social needs of that age group:

  • Level 1 (6 to 8 years) includes stories about Ralph Rabbit and Bonnie Bear who are soft, fluffy and round and live in Monarch Meadow.  They have various encounters and adventures with Leonard Lamb who teaches them how to accept their genetic body build, talk about their feelings and needs, and become physically active and eat a diet that is healthy but not depriving.
  • Level 2 (9 or 10 years) focuses on Cindy and Matt, two fourth graders in Miss Bacon's class who form their own SHAPEDOWN Club and help each other get in shape, speak up about their feelings and needs and eat healthier.
  • Level 3 (11 or 12 years) highlights the developmental issues of the middle school years and three friends, Jeff, Molly and Lily.  Lily contends with her single parent mother and her own emotional overeating.  Jeff learns how to speak up and to turn off the television and become active.  Molly learns to ask for support and confronts her dad and herself about junk food eating.
  • Level 4 (13 to 18 years) designed for middle to late adolescents and weaves in interchanges and stories from four teens: Jeff, Molly, Lily and Carol as they learn to take responsibility for both their physical and emotional well-being.

The program is family-based since pediatric obesity research has shown that family-based treatment is effective even at 10-year follow-up.  Treatments that don't target the family have no long term significant effects.  SHAPEDOWN targets overweight, nutrition and activity in both child and parents.  The SHAPEDOWN Parent's Guide includes readings, practices, contracts, goals and food and activity records. A parent's guide for the children's program (used with levels 1, 2 and 3) and a different parent's guide for the teen program (used with level 4) are available.  Each corresponds with the issues addressed in their companion child or adolescent workbook.

Organizations involved with SHAPEDOWN to help families learn the social, emotional and/or psychological factors that contribute to the child’s weight and learn techniques to help control the weight.  Parents tune up their nurturing and limit-setting skills to prompt their child toward a healthier lifestyle.  The child accepts more responsibility for food choices and activity.  The program is not a diet; rather the primary emphasis is on prevention of weight gain to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Food becomes less important, activity more exciting and the weight begins to normalize.  The individual learns lifestyle changes that help keep the weight off.  Children learn to regulate their food intake over time when allowed to select their own food.

Children and teens in SHAPEDOWN enhance their self-esteem, improve peer relationships, adopt healthier habits and begin to normalize their weight within their genetic potential.  Specific benefits of SHAPEDOWN have been cited to include:

  • Activity levels increase through chores, interest and social activities
  • Sedentary pursuits are decreased
  • Weight loss is gradual
  • New eating habits are learned
  • The child learns skills to help achieve a healthy lifestyle into adulthood
  • Families become closer and healthier
  • All aspects of weight management are addressed, not just physical activity

Lake CAA targets 200 children, adolescents, and at least one of their parents to participate in the SHAPEDOWN Program.

The effectiveness of SHAPEDOWN was evaluated for 15 months through a randomized experimental design study.  The study suggests that the program produces significant long-term outcomes in obese adolescents and is transferable to a variety of settings.


Tim Bridges, Director of Human Resources