Most beauty queens hope for world peace, but one teen pageant contestant wants to tackle an issue that consumes the Washington, D.C., region.
Erica White-Ruffin, a 16-year-old D.C. resident, plans to use childhood obesity, a topic close to her heart, as her platform for the upcoming Miss Teen D.C. pageant.
Erica said she noticed that she was bigger than other kids when she was in the third grade. While she didn’t feel bullied about her weight, kids did tease her for her differences.
Her pediatrician recommended she visit Children’s National Hospital's Improving Diet, Energy and Activity for Life (IDEAL) Clinic around the same time. Erica credits the clinic for helping her learn how to eat better and live a healthier life.
The IDEAL Clinic helps children and adolescents ages 2 to 18, with a Body Mass Index (BMI) at or above the 95th percentile, achieve a healthier lifestyle with the help of a multidisciplinary team.
“The initial visit is a comprehensive visit where we get full medical history, family history, social history, and the child sees a dietician and psychologist,” The IDEAL clinic’s Susma Vaidya, M.D., M.P.H., said. “One of the beauties of the IDEAL clinic is we really take the time to get to know the families and learn what their problems are and what they’re concerned about. We want to make sure that all involved parties are participating.”
This comprehensive, personalized approach makes it easier for patients to follow their individual plan once they leave the clinic. Dr. Vaidya explained that each family leaves with an IDEAL Clinic prescription, a plan outlining the nutrition and physical activity goals agreed upon between the dietician and the family. Each family member decides how many goals they can achieve and then signs the prescription like a contract.
The IDEAL Clinic then sees patients every four weeks until goals are met and the child maintains a healthy weight.
“We do small incremental steps because it’s impossible to change habits in really big chunks. For example, if we have a child that drinks juice every day, the first step would be to get them to drink juice once a week,” Dr. Vaidya said.
Erica and her family were very appreciative of their IDEAL Clinic prescription.
“They had a whole kit of healthy things to eat and recipes for my family to cook,” Erica said. “That really helped me because I never knew what to eat and would only eat McDonald's.”
Erica admitted that she wasn’t the most active child at the time.
“The only time I was really physically active was in gym class and that was only sometimes because I was so scared to do certain activities out of fear that other kids would make fun of me,” she said.
After Erica finished the IDEAL Clinic program, it didn’t take long for her to fall back on her former bad habits.
“I kept gaining more and more weight each year and finally, I thought, ‘It’s time for me to do something.’ So, during Spring Break, instead of going on vacation, I went down to my basement in search of workout tapes,” Erica said.
Erica relied on tips she remembered from the IDEAL clinic to help keep her new workout and nutrition program on track. Erica lost about 25 pounds and is now a happy and healthy teenager about to embark on her first ever Miss Teen DC pageant.
“My platform for Miss Teen DC is childhood obesity,” she said. “I know it is a struggle for a lot of kids everywhere, and even Michelle Obama has her own campaign for it and it’s my own personal experience and I hope I can motivate kids to help themselves.”
So, what advice can this budding pageant queen offer?
“My best advice is to not lose faith in yourself. At the end of the day you make all of the decisions for yourself. You shouldn’t let other people’s opinions determine how you feel about yourself,” Erica said. “I lost weight, not because people were teasing me, but because I wanted to feel better and I wanted to be healthier for myself.”