With 15 million obese children in the U.S. and another 26 million children in the country at risk, health practitioners nationwide are exploring ways to address inactivity, poor nutrition and genetic risk factors that can lead to health and weight problems.
Childhood obesity is a serious condition with associated risks including increased rates of type 2 diabetes in children, high blood pressure, the development of adult obesity, and early plaque (cholesterol and fat) build up in the heart arteries leading to heart disease as the child gets older.
In an effort to promote fitness and healthy nutrition, reduce the incidence of childhood obesity and create lifetime good health habits for parents and children in Freeborn County, Minn., Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea worked with the Albert Lea Family YMCA, Public School District 241, and Freeborn County Public Health to advance the Fit Forever program for kindergarten to eighth-grade children in 2010.
"Our goal is to help get parents and kids to make better choices together," says Maria Loerzel, M.D., family practice, and who is also chair of the medical center's Community Relations Committee. "We also want to educate families on healthy eating options and show kids that physical fitness can be fun."
Fit Forever began in January 2009, with a showing of "Supersize Me," the documentary about a man who ate and drank only items from the McDonald's menu for 30 days.
Fit Forever continued with fun nights at area schools, events through Community Education and the Albert Lea Family Y, and culminated in June with the "Land Between the Lakes Kids' Triathlon," which emphasized participation over competition.
In 2010 the Fit Forever program again sponsored the triathlon. Children were grouped in age categories that completed different lengths of swimming, bicycling and running distances. All children completing the triathlon received a medal, T-shirt and a roar of cheers as they crossed the finish line.
"It's fantastic to see the excitement from the kids participating and the spectators," says Dennis Dieser, Albert Lea Family Y Director, and a member of the medical center's Community Relations Committee. "Our partnership with the school and medical center enables us to offer and promote programs to improve health we wouldn't be able to do on our own. And once we get the kids interested, we hope their parents will come along, too."