The Statewide Parent Advocacy Network (SPAN), a parent training and information center and Family to Family Health Information Center in New Jersey, became seriously concerned about this issue when working with families of children with special needs. SPAN is a member of Shaping NJ, our state’s obesity prevention initiative, but realized that the issue of overweight and obese children with special needs was not a target of the initiative’s activities. So SPAN reached out to partners in underserved communities in Essex and Passaic counties to pilot an effort to target families of children with special needs, Empowering Parents to Address and Prevent Obesity in their Children with Special Healthcare Needs. Working with NJ SNAP-Ed (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education), Mi Casa es Puebla (Casa Puebla), Montclair Family YMCA, and Zufall Federally Qualified Health Center, SPAN is integrating Ability Path strategies focused on nutrition and exercise for children with special healthcare needs into three SNAP-ED series and connecting trained parents with peer mentors to help them develop and implement action plans to prevent and address overweightness and obesity in their children with special needs. “ AbilityPath.org is an on-line hub for the special needs community for parents and professionals to learn, connect and live a more balanced life - through all phases of a child’s growth and development.” (Finding Balance, Obesity and Children with Special Needs).

FQHCs provide primary care to underserved children and families; YMCAs are committed to healthy living and youth development; and Casa Puebla is a community based organization serving immigrant families. The project’s goals include to (a) enhance the knowledge and skills of diverse parents of children with special needs on preventing and addressing obesity through healthy nutrition and exercise, by providing an educational series integrating targeted information and activities for children with special needs into the SNAP-ED curriculum; (b) support diverse parents of children with special needs to develop and implement plans aimed at preventing and addressing obesity; and (c) use what is learned from the pilot project to increase a focus on children with special needs in other local, state and national initiatives focused on obesity prevention and intervention.


Often, wellness and prevention aren’t thought of for children with disabilities because the focus is on the child’s special needs. But nutrition and physical activity are even more important for children and youth with special needs. There are things that parents can do to reinforce healthy nutrition and exercise/physical activity at home. There are many tools to help families including excellent resource guides (see Resources, below). Physical activity is essential for good health for all children, regardless of ability. It is even more important for children with