Building healthy habits: Pilot program aims to combat childhood obesity (TribStar)

Credit - Sue Loughlin, Tribune Star - Published July 23, 2021


On a recent weekday, Common Ground CrossFit head coach Luke Nelson led some Camp Navigate youth, and a few parents, in exercises and relay games in a large gathering room at World Gospel Church.


Nelson had them run across the floor and he periodically shouted, “freeze,” followed by, “Keep running. Freeze. Go. Freeze.” Later, he separated them into two teams. Three representatives of each team did a series of exercises starting with five pushups. They ran to another location and did five jumping jacks. Next, they zoomed across the floor and did five “burpees” — which are pushups followed by a leap in the air.


At that point, kids and parents ran back to where they started and another group began. “We really believe in getting them [campers] active and using their energy in the best way possible, rather than being cooped up inside,” Nelson said in an interview. On Tuesday and Thursday afternoons in July, campers and parents can participate in exercise programs offered through such organizations as Common Ground Crossfit and Yoga, Wellness Box or Union Health Center for Fitness and Performance. The fitness programs are volunteering their staff and time to lead these classes.


One goal is to get more parents involved with their kids in physical exercise.

It’s part of a new pilot program called Wabash Valley Healthy Heroes, a partnership between Camp Navigate, Union Health and other groups aimed at combating childhood obesity through physical exercise and healthy eating.

According to the CDC, “Childhood obesity is a serious problem in the United States, putting children and adolescents at risk for poor health.” For children and adolescents age 2-19 in 2017-2018, the prevalence was 19.3% and affected about 14.4 million children and adolescents. Obesity prevalence was 21.2% among 12- to 19-year-olds.


Steve Holman, Union Health chief executive officer, and Eleanor Ramseier, Camp Navigate executive director, began discussing the new program earlier this year.

“Right now, we’re focusing on, as a pilot program, the physical part and trying to get them to eat healthy and get involved in physical activity. But the most important thing is getting their family involved,” Ramseier said. By starting young, hopefully those healthy habits “will stay with them their entire life,” Holman said.


From a public health perspective, Vigo County has ranked poorly among Indiana’s 92 counties on some of the health metrics, including obesity and smoking, Holman said. “We want to improve on that. We’d like to go to the top 10 ... What would that take if we use a long-term approach?” Holman said. They decided to move forward with the pilot program at Camp Navigate, Ramseier said. In the startup stage, Healthy Heroes will target physical health through healthy eating habits, family involvement and physical exercise. Later, the goal is to expand to other sites and take a wholistic approach that includes mental and spiritual health, Ramseier said. Healthy Heroes will continue in the fall with Camp Navigate’s after-school program at DeVaney Elementary. “We don’t want to grow so fast that we don’t have a quality program,” Ramseier said.


Although Camp Navigate has always included Healthy Habits in its programming, the new Healthy Heroes sub-program with community partners will provide a broader reach within the Wabash Valley, Ramseier said.


This summer, in addition to the optional July exercise programs, Camp Navigate is offering gardening sessions with campers and it continues to serve healthy meals.

It conducted its annual field trip to Baesler’s to encourage shopping for healthy foods; Baesler’s provides gift cards, and prior to the shopping trip, Camp Navigate campers are taught how to read the back of a nutritional label. “We encourage them not to purchase an item that has sugar listed in the first three ingredients,” Ramseier said.


About 175 campers and staff participated.


Healthy Heroes subcommittee members include: Ramseier; Holman; Tina Elliott; Kelsey Terry, Common Ground co-owner; Angie and Paul Thrift; Bob Baesler; Kristi Whitacre, Purdue Extension; Bret Mishler, World Gospel Church; Rob Haworth, Vigo County School Corp. superintendent; Bonnie Thompson, co-owner, Wellness Box; Hicham Rahmouni, Lugar Center executive director; Traci Dedor, Lugar Center.


The partners believe that addressing obesity at a young age, and involving families, will be the best opportunity to achieve long-lasting results. “Our health institutions are currently treating adults with diseases associated with obesity. Not surprisingly, even adults in their 30s and 40s have health issues due to deep-rooted behaviors and habits that are difficult to adjust,” Ramseier said.

Bonnie Thompson, co-owner of Wellness Box fitness studio, which also works with children, said Healthy Heroes provides another opportunity to educate kids and help them make good choices about healthy habits.


Wellness Box will work with campers on fitness and teach kids how to do fun workouts at home with parents; staff also will talk about healthy eating.

“Parents are the gatekeepers for the food that goes on the table,” or food purchased at the drive-thru, Thompson said. “We need parents to understand they are the ones providing that nutrition for their kids and they need to provide better options.”


Among those participating in the recent Healthy Heroes workout was Robin Danek, who exercised with her 9-year-old daughter Violet Templeton. Danek, who goes to CommonGround, has done crossfit for more than 10 years.

“I support initiatives like this because I know Terre Haute has a problem with childhood obesity and anything we can do to get family members involved with sports for kids is a win,” she said.

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