‘Fit Families’ program teaches healthy eating, exercise to prevent obesity

  • Published
  • By Jessica Gibson
  • 71st Flying Training Wing Public Affairs
Preschoolers at the Vance Child Development Center were excited Monday morning as staff from the Health and Wellness Center arrived with snacks and games in tow.

"What are we doing today?" some of the kids asked Beth Moss, the Health Promotion educator and manager at the HAWC. "Come see!" Moss replied.

Moss and the staff of the HAWC have been working with Vance youth as a part of "Fit Families," an obesity prevention program designed to promote healthy eating and activity for all ages.

Fit Families began at Fort Bragg, N.C., for school age children, but Vance's HAWC has adapted the program for kids from pre-K through high school.

This is the third week the program has been running, and so far, "We've gotten a good vibe," said Kellie Jensen, the fitness program coordinator at the HAWC.

"If we can get kids to eat healthy and be less sedentary, they're more likely to be healthy adults," Moss said.

Moss began the session with the preschoolers by describing the difference between "green light" and "red light" foods: foods that give you energy, and foods that slow you down. She described some attributes of "green light" foods, such as color, chewiness and crunchiness, and asked the kids to give some examples.

"We stress having fun with the little ones," Moss said. Object lessons and visuals help simplify and reinforce concepts of healthy eating, she said.

After the presentation, Moss, Jensen, and Staff Sgt. Laura Ashline, the HAWC's nutrition specialist, helped the kids prepare breakfast "burritos" made of wheat tortillas, yogurt, peanut butter and various fruits.

"It's important to have the kids prepare their own food," Ashline said. "It shows them what's healthy and good to eat."

"Mmm, yummy in my tummy!" called out one boy as he ate his burrito.

Once the snacks were cleaned up, the kids headed outside for some games. "Instead of teaching little kids exercise," Moss explained, "we encourage them to play and be active. That is exercise to them."

The kids played "bears in the wood", a preschool-adapted version of "sharks and minnows. "Roaring is encouraged!" Jensen said as she explained the rules. Of course, the rules were mostly disregarded in favor of just running around, laughing and growling, to the adults' amusement.

"We are a lot less organized with the little kids," Jensen said. "We usually end up improvising a lot." The rest of the staff nodded and laughed in agreement.

The same basic pattern of education, hands-on and activity is reflected in each of the programs in Fit Families. Of course, the approach to healthy eating and exercise is different for each age group, Jensen explained.

"For the little ones, we use the 'stoplight' diet," said Jensen. "For school age, we focus more on giving them information about food, and for the teens it's mostly fact-based and more in-depth. With exercise, we play lots of games with the little kids and the school age kids, but we teach the teens how to have a real workout."

"We try and relate [the program] to what they do every day," Moss said.

"A sedentary lifestyle has a huge impact on a kid's health. We want to set up kids to be physically active," Jensen said.

"Overweight kids are 70 percent more likely to be obese adults," Jensen said.

It's not just a health risk, Moss explained. Being obese or overweight is damaging to a child's self-esteem as well. It gets more and more difficult to combat their weight when they become discouraged and depressed because of it, she said.

"Eating healthy today is a big challenge," Jensen said. "Cheaper foods tend to be worse for you, so it's tough to buy healthy foods because they're more expensive." Fast foods are also a problem because they're cheap and easy to get, Jensen said.

These are exactly the types of issues Fit Families addresses. The program teaches kids easy, simple ways to change their diet, such as consuming fewer sugary drinks less often, and regulating their portion sizes. Exercise can also be less complicated, Moss and Jensen said.

"If a kid likes to walk or bike or swim or play a sport, we encourage that as their exercise. Just moving is better than being sedentary," they said.

Fit Families isn't just for kids. The HAWC encourages kids' parents to be involved with the program not only to support their kids, but also to learn simple ways to affect the family's diet and activities to combat obesity.

For more information about Fit Families and other programs at the HAWC, contact Jensen at 213-6639.