Agencies unite to fight childhood obesity

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Kathy Chaffin
Rowan Regional Medical Center and the YMCA of Rowan County are teaming up with Rowan-Salisbury Schools to launch a health and fitness program to combat childhood obesity.
In its first year, the “Fit for Motion” program will be offered to second-graders at Shive, Overton and Millbridge elementary schools. The journey to health and fitness “begins with one step,” said Rick Parker, Rowan Regional’s vice president of clinical and support services.
And as long as there are children, he said, “the journey never ends.”
“It may be too grandiose to say we’re going to affect the lives of a lot of these kids,” Parker said after the meeting, “but the plan is to continue this journey … and take a leadership role in addressing childhood obesity.”
For the first time ever, children’s average life expectancy is lower than their parents. “And it’s mainly due to the obesity epidemic,” he said. “We’ve got to tackle this. It’s not fair, and that’s why it’s so important that we work with the parents and the children.”
Parker joined with Michael Burton, director of corporate communications for Rowan Regional, and Jamie Morgan, chief executive director of the YMCA of Rowan County, in announcing the Fit for Motion program at Wednesday’s meeting of the Rowan County PTA Council.
The program is based on an initiative developed by the Presbyterian Preventive Cardiology and Hemby Children’s Hospital of Charlotte. Since debuting in April 2007, it has helped dozens of children and teens achieve their weight goals.
Fit for Motion will include three eight-week courses featuring weekly 30-minute sessions aimed at motivating children to live healthy lifestyles through fun, interactive presentations and activities. Organizers will also work with children on leadership development.
The first session will begin the week of Sept. 22.
Chuck Elliott, chief executive officer at Rowan Regional, said Fit for Motion is just one way the medical center is working with its new partner, Novant Health, “to fulfill our mission to improve the health of our community one person at a time.”
Morgan said Food Lion has also come on board with the program. “It’s a complete community effort,” he said, “just another example of what can happen when people come together for a common cause.”
“Promoting healthy nutrition is important to Food Lion,” said Chris Blumenthal, the company’s community affairs health and wellness specialist. Through community efforts such as Fit for Motion, “Food Lion aims to make a difference in the communities that we serve.”
Rowan Regional has purchased a set of Body Mass Index (BMI) scales to monitor the progress of the second graders. Parker said the scales are unique in that children being weighed or anyone around them will not be able to see the actual weight because it goes directly into a computer.
Forsyth County, which started a similar program earlier, already has a data bank of children’s weight and BMI scores.
Parker said forms will be sent home with children for parents to sign if they don’t want them to participate.
Morgan said, however, that parental support of the program is crucial to its success. Fit for Motion “is a comprehensive program to help kids ó and their parents ó build lifelong healthy attitudes that will motivate them towards a healthy lifestyle.”
As part of the Fit for Motion program, the YMCA will offer a family night featuring fun fitness activities for the children, their parents and siblings.
Zebbie Bondurant, principal of Shive Elementary School, said she hopes the program will be introduced in all Rowan County elementary schools by next year.
“The key to childhood obesity is education and showing kids that physical fitness and healthy eating can be fun,” she said. “The earlier changes are made in a child’s life, the more likely that child will carry on those habits into adulthood.”
Fitness experts from the Y and dieticians and health care professionals from Rowan Regional and Presbyterian Preventive Cardiology will be among the presenters at the weekly Fit for Motion sessions. Goals of the program are to:
– Educate youth and their families on healthy lifestyle behaviors;
– Provide leadership development;
– Develop ambassadors to lead promotion of healthier lifestyles to others;
– Provide educational materials on various health topics to youth and parents;
– Reward youth with prizes that reinforce healthy behaviors.
Nationwide, the number of overweight preschoolers has doubled over the past 10 years. In the Central Piedmont region of North Carolina, one study showed that more than 40 percent of first- and second-graders are overweight or obese.
Pediatricians warn that if that continues, these children could grow up with diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol problems and cardiac-related health issues.