Washington Post staff writer January Payne and Jessica Sultzer, D.C. site director for Project Health, discussed adolescent fitness and the article focusing on the Girls Fitness and Nutrition (FitNut) program.
Making Girls Fit: FitNut Helps At-Risk Girls Stay Healthy (Post, March 1)
A transcript follows.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
January Payne: Welcome, and thank you for joining our chat today about adolescent fitness and the Girls Fitness and Nutrition (FitNut) program. FitNut is a national program targeted toward African American girls; the program has locations in the District, Boston, New York and Providence, R.I. The Washington, D.C., program is run jointly by Project Health (a nonprofit organization based in Boston) and volunteer undergraduates from George Washington University.
Joining me today is Jessica Sultzer, the Washington, D.C. site director for Project Health. We are here to take your questions on FitNut, Project Health and adolescent fitness.
As noted in the article, today's youth are struggling with weight just as adults are. According to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 1999 through 2002, about 23 percent of African American girls ages 6 to 11 and 24 percent of those 12 to 19 were overweight -- defined in children as having a body mass index at or above the 95th percentile on age- and sex-specific growth charts. About 13 percent of white girls ages 6 to 11 and 12 to 19 were overweight; 17 percent of Mexican-American girls ages 6 to 11, and 20 percent of those 12 to 19 were overweight.
Overweight adolescents have a 70 percent chance of becoming overweight or obese adults, according to the 2001 Surgeon General's Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity. Overweight children and adolescents face increased risks of high cholesterol and high blood pressure, both risk factors for heart disease, according to the report.
For more information about Project Health or FitNut please visit www.projecthealth.org, or contact Jessica at 202-884-5780 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Is this only targeted at African American girls? If so, why?
Jessica Sultzer: Hello. The program is not just targeted at African American girls, but because most of the families who are served by the Children's hospital South East health centers are African American, a majority of the participants mirror the population served.
How successful is the program?
Jessica Sultzer: The program has been pretty successful. As more families hear about the program through Children's hospital and through our community program, our program numbers continue to increase.
My 16 year old son is a couch potato. Nothing that I say or do motivates him to do any physical activity. He is aware that he is out of shape, but won't do anything about it. Most of his friends do sports, but he won't because he said he is out of shape. It is like a catch-22. Do you have any suggestions to get him going?
January Payne: Thanks for writing, Springfield. You are not alone -- In fact, I have two teenage brothers who are a lot like this.
Your son may not want to participate in sports with his friends because he may feel like he is too out of shape to keep up with them. Maybe a slower start would work out better. Have to tried taking him to the local YMCA or gym to do a workout with him? Let him start slow and work up at a pace that isn't too fast for him. It may take awhile, but slower is better many times, according to experts I've talked to.
Is the program for DC residents only?
Jessica Sultzer: The program is not just targeted at DC residents, but because of the location, we find that DC residents have less transportation issues. Most of our patients come from the Children's Hospital network, which is located in DC
My daughter gives the impression that she is active and I don't see her eating the "wrong" foods. How can I help her?
January Payne: Hi Washington-- thanks for joining us. It sounds like your daughter is on the right track. You can help her by ensuring that the diet she gets at home consists of healthy foods. See today's Lean Plate Club by Post columnist Sally Squires for advice on healthy family meals.
How do you go about obtaining volunteers? Since the program is geared toward African American girls, why not obtain volunteers from Historially Black Universities?
Jessica Sultzer: Project HEALTH forms partnerships with local Universities in four cities. GW is Children's Hospitals academic partner, but GW is also very diverse and we recruit a diverse group of student volunteers from the University, including African American volunteers
Is McDonald's food bad for you?
January Payne: Well, that depends on what you're eating at McDonalds! The fast food the restaurant chain is known for isn't all McDonald's serves anymore. You can even pick up a salad there these days.
McDonald's (yes, the fast food joint) has *nutrition* info on its Web site...Check it out before you place your next order there:
How can we see or get a copy of the dance routine that is being used?
Jessica Sultzer: The dance changes from semester to semester, based upon the interest of the participants. We do not have a copy of the routine to distribute, because the volunteers design a new one every semester.
I hear Springfield when it comes to having kids who are couch potatoes. My boys do nothing but sit in front of the video games all day. I've limited them to two hours per day but even then it's tough. Are there any activities around the area that could help?
January Payne: Hi Arlington. Sounds like you are taking steps in the right direction. Are your boys into sports or any particular activities? I did a search for the YMCA of Metropolitan DC near you and found the page below that lists a bunch of activities/programs for kids. Hope it helps out.
My 11 year old African American son has inherited my genes of generational obesity, primarily with the females in my family. However, he is very active in little league basket ball and football, but he is developing breasts. What are the main things he can do nutritionally to see a significant reduction in his body fat. His favorite afterschool snack are ramen noodles. Are there any exercises he can do to work on these breasts that are developing. He is 5 ft and 140 lbs. Thank you.
January Payne: Hi Columbia. Thanks for your question. Our advice is to seek the advice of your son's doctor, or a personal trainer who specializes in working with children. If you go the personal trainer route, ask your son's doc for a referral. There are plenty who offer these services in the DC/Baltimore areas, but a referral is usually best.
Riverdale Dancer Wannabe:
Upon what is the dance routine based? Is there a video/DVD or sorts to reference? I love to dance and figure if I can do that, I can stay fitter than I am.
Jessica Sultzer: The dance routine is based upon the creativity of the volunteers. They have a dance background, so design the dance based upon previous experience as well as learning from new dance resources.
About video games: I've got two teenage boys who play Dance Dance Revolution on their XBox game system. It uses two big mats and you dance to prompts. They both love it. Lots of boys like it because it's competitive, but girls play it too. Much better choice than many video games
January Payne: Thanks, Hyattsville! I've heard and read lots of good things about DDR. Thanks for the suggestion.
What do you see as the greatest problem facing kids and health today? Food? Lack of exercise? Parental involvement?
January Payne: Hi Washington. From talking to experts on all sides of this issue, I would say that there is no easy answer to this question. Nutrition/food and exercise play a huge role in the health of kids. So does parental motivation/involvement. The best thing to to do is try to have a healthy mix of all things to keep kids on the right track.
How dire you consider the current situation? Or is it dire at all?
January Payne: Thanks for joining us, Virginia. According to experts nationwide, the overweight and obesity problem is a very, very significant one. Overweight and obesity affects adults and children alike, and the numbers continue to rise.
These numbers from the National Center for Health Statistics paint a picture of the problem:
% of adults age 20 years and over who are overweight or obese: 64
% of adults age 20 years and over who are obese: 30
% of adolescents age 12-19 years who are overweight: 15
% of children age 6-11 years who are overweight: 15
See www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/overwt.htm for more info.
Have you attempted to expand the program to other areas of the city and reach more girls? Also -- what styles of dance are introduced, is it mainly urban hip-hop right now, or do you try any Latin or Carribean influences?
Jessica Sultzer: Project HEALTH exists in four cities, Providence, Boston, NY and DC. We introduce some different forms of dance, but the girls seem to enjoy the hip hop the most. The program also includes a lot of outdoor activities, when it becomes nice outside. Some examples are basketball, kickball, soccer and other playground activities.
January Payne: That's all the time we have for today. Thanks for joining us, everyone! We enjoyed talking with you.