Childhood obesity is a major issue in America today, which doesn't exclude Cape May County.
Acknowledging the dismal statistics and wanting to be a part of the solution, several county health advocates have started to host youth programs aimed at making healthy fun.
Wildwood Crest resident and certified fitness instructor Laura Farrall is one such supporter. Farrall hosts a 10-week Fit Kids exercise program at Crest Pier Recreation Center in Wildwood Crest every fall and winter. She dreamed up concept in 2004, kicked it off in 2007 and has held it every year since.
"We have to fight back," said Farrall. "We need to get the kids off the couches, away from the gadgets and moving again."
Her Fit Kids classes are created for children ages 8 to 12 and consist of an hour-long exercise class once per week, each ending in a 10-minute nutrition lesson. Past nutrition topics have included portion control, choosing healthy snacks and being aware of mindless eating.
"Mindless is essentially eating a bag of chips while watching TV," Farrall said. "You're not paying attention to the amount of food you're consuming or even how it tastes. I tell (the children) 'go outside and eat an apple on a crisp, cool day and actually enjoy the experience and the tastes.'"
The Fit Kids exercise classes are fast-paced and fun, and often incorporate popular children's activities such as freeze tag, capture the flag and kickball. Each of the activities lasts just five to seven minutes to keep the kids engaged and moving.
"There are no winners or losers," Farrall said. "It's all about having fun and moving."
Ocean City resident and chef educator Annmarie Chelius is on a similar mission. She, too, is determined to inspire kids to live healthy lives, but her main focus is on their food.
Chelius, a chef educator with Atlantic Cape Community College's Academy of Culinary Arts, volunteers with the "Chefs Move! To School" program, part of first lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! children's health campaign. Chelius adopted Ocean City Intermediate School as her Chefs Move! To School program partner. Every few months she volunteers her time at the school, hosting hands-on healthy cooking demonstrations.
Chelius also writes and performs original rap songs encoded with healthy messages for the kids. So far she has written and produced two raps videos, "Eat Some Salad" and "Bisque," and she's working on the third, which will be titled "Delectable Vegetable." Her innovative approach to promoting healthy eating practices in children recently led to her being named the 2012 Spirit of Women National Award winner in the Community Hero in Action category.
She said she has learned that the trick is get on the kids' level and engage them in the activity. Children are much more likely to eat healthy food if they helped prepare it.
"We've never made something they didn't like," Chelius said.
Farrall said, that in talking to the kids, she has found they already know what's considered healthy and what's not.
"They want to choose the healthy route," she said.
With the support, encouragement and motivation of adults, Farrall believes children will make the right decisions when it comes to their health.
"Parents will often buy them the junk food they ask for at the grocery store just to pacify them," she said. "But, when we talk about healthy snacks together, the kids will admit they really do like apples and peanut butter. They like carrots. Pop some grapes in the freezer, make it fun, and they'll eat it right up."
Contact Elisa Lala:
The Crest Pier Recreation Center in Wildwood Crest is now taking registration for its fall Fit Kids Exercise Program, a 10-week series for children ages 8 to 12. The program will kick off once there is enough interest and will be held 3:45 to 4:45 Mondays. Fit Kids is an exercise class designed for children, featuring numerous fun-filled aerobic activities as well as brief lessons on nutrition. Fee is $30 for one child, $20 for each additional child from the same family. Call 609-523-0202.