RALEIGH, N.C. — Obesity is rising at an alarming rate among the more than 2,000youth who use Wake Teen Medical Services each year.
Almost four in 10 Wake County youth ages 12 to 18 are considered obese, the group says, putting them at increased risk for illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.
The problem is particularly prevalent among African-American and Hispanic females.
To help address this problem, the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust has awarded Wake Teen Medical Services a two-year grant of $228,430 to expand its “Be Fit, Get Moving” program aimed at reducing childhood obesity.
Wake Teen intends to establish a community-based effort involving consumers, nonprofits, faith-based organizations and hospitals that will provide education and direct services to improve the health of overweight children and to help prevent at-risk children from becoming obese.
To facilitate this network, Wake Teen has added a coordinator and a full-time nutritionist, and plans to hire an exercise therapist.
In a second part of the program, Wake Teen will work directly with obese youth to help them develop healthy eating and exercise habits.
The group also plans to select 100 children during the program’s first year to receive one-on-one instruction from Wake Teen’s nutritionist and exercise therapist to develop a dietary and exercise regimen appropriate for each child.
These experts will keep in contact with the kids to offer assistance and assessment, and to make sure the kids stay committed.
Wake Teen hopes to increase the number of youth served to 150 during the program’s second year and to 250 the year after that.
In addition to working with the kids, program staff will work with the caregivers who are responsible for each child’s diet.
Together they will develop a dietary plan that is healthy for the child, while staying within the caregivers’ budgets and the time available for preparation.
The beginnings of the program have had an unexpected positive effect beyond simply improving the child’s health, says Robin Temple, Wake Teen’s director of development.
“The entire family is benefitting from the education we’re providing,” she says.
And there’s anecdotal evidence such an approach could have an even wider effect.
Before the grant from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, a mother helped improve the health of her community by sharing with her friends the healthy recipes provided for her child, says Temple.
The program will receive additional support from volunteers who will help the youth with group exercise programs and other activities.
“The goal is to see behavioral changes in children and families who participate,” says Temple, “We’re providing educational and family incentives to make better choices.”