Y and Hospital Fight Childhood Obesity

NORFOLK VA — Families in Virginia were part of pilot program that could someday spread to YMCAs across the country.

The 10-week Healthy You weight management program originated with a local hospital, the Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters, five years ago. At that time, the children and their parents met in the deserted waiting rooms of medical offices after-hours. The children would run up the stairs as part of their workout or exercise in the physical therapy gyms. Then Babs Benson, the program coordinator, had an idea. Why not partner with the Norfolk, VA, Family Y around the corner? Because the Y was focusing on childhood obesity as part of its local initiative, the two organizations were a natural fit, Benson said.

Last fall, the hospital launched a pilot program at the Y. For $350, families enrolled in a 10-week, twice-a-week program, which was divided into two age groups — 8 to 11 and 12 and up. Some of the children were 20 to 120 pounds overweight, and about 80 percent were referred to the program by their doctor.

“Most of [the parents] are concerned about a medical issue because [their children] are on their way to diabetes or high blood pressure,” she said. “Other parents are concerned about their kid's self esteem as they gain more weight. Some of them have anger issues and lock themselves in their bedroom when they get home from school.”

To become part of the program, both the parents and the children had to attend the educational classes on Tuesday nights and the exercise sessions on Thursday nights. When a child has a problem with obesity, it's important for the entire family to take on the responsibility and make lifestyle changes, said Kelly Bridgson, director of operations, membership and fitness for the Y.

To give the children one-on-one attention and make them feel comfortable in a fitness facility, the Y provided personal group exercise instructors for the children. At the program's end, the Y gave the families a two-month trial membership, and three of the families joined the Y. Because of the success of the pilot program, the hospital expanded the program to four other Ys in the region. Benson hopes the program eventually will become a nationwide initiative.

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