With the number of overweight and obese children in the U.S. tripling over the past three decades, preventing childhood obesity has become a serious concern in this country. So much so First Lady Michele Obama is making it a top priority with her Let’s Move campaign. And Jamie Oliver flew over from Europe to teach American school kids about healthy eating habits.
Now, Clara Maass Medical Center Foundation is taking on the challenge. On Sunday, September 26, the foundation is hosting the Lifeline Challenge to Healthy Living in Branch Brook Park. This walk/ride event raises money to help fund the foundation’s efforts in bringing nutrition and exercise programs to Essex, Bergen, Passaic and Hudson county schools, empowering children and their families to make healthy choices.
“We want to reach out to hundreds of kids – as many as we can,” said Jacqueline Kelly, Special Events Coordinator at Clara Maass. And the statistics show the kids could use it. A quarter of all American kids are overweight and 11% are categorized as obese. Figures like these make pediatric obesity the most common chronic pediatric disease. And the disease can also spur on a whole host of other related diseases: early onset type-2 diabetes, insulin resistance, hypertension, polycystic ovarian syndrome and sleep apnea.
Unfortunately, childhood obesity will most likely not end with childhood. Studies show 70% of obese adolescents develop obesity in adulthood. With all of the health risks and persistence of the disease Clara Maass is working to stop this epidemic from spreading by extending its program, which Kelly likens to the television show Iron Chef. “We want to make it fun, and let them be kids,” Kelly said.
And with a name like “Fit and Fun” how could the school program not be fun? “Fit and Fun” veteran and Clinical Nutrition Manager Katie Szymona explained, “We teach kids healthy eating in a fun way.” One such way was holding an orange juice race in which two teams of school kids competed against one another to squeeze the most juice from fresh oranges. The kids then learned the benefits of fresh orange juice as opposed to juice from a carton. Food demos were also held as a way for kids to have fun playing the role of chef while preparing healthy snacks. But these programs are not enough to combat the epidemic. According to Szymona, parental involvement is particularly important. “If the parents eat well, then the children will follow their actions and eat well themselves.”
The fit part comes into play with personal trainers, who join the schools in making exercise a fun part of the kids’ activities. Toting mats and water bottles with them to give to participating kids, the trainers continue to visit the schools along with dieticians to track the kids’ progress.
Take that, Jaime Oliver. We have our own dieticians and chefs, and personal trainers to school our kids in healthy lifestyles – at least in N.J. And, sadly, we desperately need it. Half of New Jersey residents are overweight. Half.
So get out there and Let’s Move, people. The race is open to anyone and everyone. Whether walking, running or riding a bike, the 2.2 mile trail is perfect for all levels and passes through one of Frederick Law Olmstead’s parks, called the “jewel in the crown” of the Essex County park system. Afterward chill out with the DJ, get a massage, and enjoy some food.
Lifeline Challenge to Healthy Living
Who: All ages.
What: A 2.2 mile walk, run or bike ride to raise money to prevent childhood obesity.
Where: Branch Brook Park, Park Avenue and Lake Street, Newark, NJ.
When: Sunday, September 26, 8:30 am start time for walkers and 9:45 am start time for 5, 10 and 15 mile cyclists. Please arrive 45 minutes before scheduled start time.
Cost: $25 per individual, $60 per family. Register early and receive a water bottle and t-shirt. Registration is open until the day of the event. Register here.