Children's Fitness Event in District Emphasizes the Fun Parts of Fighting Obesity
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Hundreds of children from wards 7 and 8 ran, danced, kickboxed and performed other exercises yesterday at Fort Davis Recreation Center in Southeast Washington to have some fun and to learn about the dangers of obesity and the benefits of healthful eating and living.
The District has the highest childhood obesity rate in the country, according to a study released last year by the Trust for America's Health, a D.C. nonprofit organization. The event, called Recess by the River and sponsored by the American Heart Association with support from Ward 8 council member Marion Barry's office, the Department of Parks and Recreation, Providence Hospital and other local and national organizations, offered children ages 8 to 14 and their parents an opportunity to learn about fighting obesity while participating in activities designed to make the lessons enjoyable. Children were bused in by the heart association from recreation centers in both wards. Others were dropped off by family members. Some were accompanied by parents. Once at the center, the youngsters were divided into groups and given mock passports labeled "United States of Healthy." Throughout the day, volunteers and event coordinators guided the children through nine activity stations.
Washington Redskins cheerleaders taught cheers. The D.C. Divas, a women's professional football team, worked a "toss station." There was a boot camp where children did sit-ups and pushups, a weightlifting station and a kickboxing area. Volunteers led dance and aerobic exercises. Participants earned heart-shaped stickers for their passports, and children with the most stickers later in the year may redeem them for prizes.
There were also health screenings and a nutrition station where kids matched food images with corresponding food categories.
Organizers worked to make the activities enjoyable and educational in the hopes that if the youngsters had fun, they would be more willing to continue exercising. It is one of the main objectives in battling childhood obesity, said Sean Smith, executive director of the National Association of Teen Fitness and Exercise, a nonprofit group based in Ward 8. When he started the group in 2002, he said, 45 youngsters enrolled. Now, he says, he works with about 500 children annually.
"Go into any high school, you see a preponderance of overweight and obese kids," he said. "Now, it's almost like it's normal, especially in low socioeconomic areas."
The mentality and habits of parents are major contributors to obesity among children, Smith said. "I guarantee, especially in D.C., if I can find an overweight and obese kid, I can find an overweight and obese parent who may not even know their child's overweight."
Dorothy Brown, 46, who lives in Ward 8, brought her 8-year-old son, Devin. "It was good," Devin said with a smile. "I learned to eat healthy. I liked when we run and touched the lines."
"It feels good to see that he learned something," Brown said.
Sisters Wanda Hall, 49, and Patricia Washington, 56, accompanied seven other family members ranging in age from 3 to 35. Both said the event has motivated them to join yoga classes at one of the supporting centers.
"This event was for the children, but I was observing and just participated along with the children here," said Washington. "I was really enlightened."