If your goal is to be an FBI agent when you grow up, you know you have to be in top physical shape. That’s one reason why A.J. Peña, who reports his age as “almost 10,” is a regular at the “Healthy Moves 4 Kids ‘n Tweens” program at Woodhull Medical and Mental Health Center in Brooklyn.
Peña, a fourth-grade student at P.S. 120 in Bushwick, weighed more than 100 pounds when his mother, Melissa Nieves, initially brought him to the program in the summer of 2010. He says that he loves the dancing and exercise, the making new friends and trying new foods and he politely adds that he likes, “talking about being healthier.”
According to Milagros Chua, M.D., a pediatrician in the HHC Eleanor Roosevelt Child Health clinic, and a driving force behind the creation of the “Healthy Moves” program, her patients “get too many sodas, too much fast food, and not enough exercise.” She often sees pre-teen patients who have high cholesterol and are at risk for diabetes.
Six years ago the HHC North Brooklyn Health Network, which includes Woodhull Hospital, Cumberland Diagnostic & Treatment Center, the Roosevelt clinic and a number of other community based health centers, created a anti-obesity focus as part of their pediatric practice to help address the problem. Last year, Dr. Chua, Public Health Educator JoNise Caleb, and a group of other dedicated HHC staffers recognized that while overweight children were receiving quality clinical care, they weren’t learning the life skills they needed to manage their weight.
“We decided to create a free program that shows children how to eat properly and that gives them the opportunity to exercise,” Chua says. Pediatric patients received an invitation to join a group and “Healthy Moves 4 Kids ‘n Tweens” debuted in April 2010. Almost immediately pounds disappeared. A.J. Peña was one of the first to participate, zooming through 30 minutes of fast and furious exercise, burning off excess energy and learning some cool new break dancing moves.
By the end of the session, about 20 kids had participated and also learned how to make parfaits from yogurt, granola, and fruit. Friends who hadn’t seen each other since last summer happily reconnected. And they all agreed it was all good fun with a purpose.
Every child who attends the program must be referred by their HHC pediatrician and accompanied by a parent.
“We stress that they have to model the behavior or the children won’t make the changes,” Caleb says.
Each child goes home with an assignment, such as trying a new vegetable or drinking more water. Participants are also asked to follow the 5-2-1-0 plan, which requires them to eat 5 or more fruits and vegetables a day, cut daily screen time to two hours, do at least an hour of exercise, and eliminate sugar-sweetened beverages. Participants also receive a pedometer and must count their steps. The new program was so successful that its innovators at Cumberland D&TC were recently honored at the annual HHC 2011 Patient Safety Champions recognition event.
Clearly this child-and-parent-focused program offers significant health benefits. A.J. Peña, however, delightedly reports that he has made considerable progress toward his own key goal: “I want to look cool.”