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KidShape helps families change lifestyles

January 05, 2009|By JANET HEIM

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Evening activities at Washington County Public Schools might have been canceled on Dec. 16 due to weather, but that didn't prevent some of the families participating in Washington County Hospital's KidShape program from turning out at Elgin Station to keep their commitment to better health.

That night's session marked the eighth weekly session of the nine-week KidShape program, designed for families of overweight children ages 6 to 13. Each session is broken up into segments such as nutrition/food demonstration, behavioral aspects of eating and time for activity.

"Our whole thing is about lifestyle changes. What are some of the changes families can make? We don't just emphasize weight loss, but it's nice if it happens," said Andrew Bokman, 25, who coordinates the fitness portion of the program.

"I'm enjoying it. The kids are having fun, too," said Bokman, who is in his second year of teaching physical education at Cascade Elementary and Williamsport elementary schools.

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Other leaders of the program include a registered dietitian, registered nurse, outpatient therapist and program coordinator.

On this night in mid-December, the food segment focused on healthy holiday snacks and how to handle special-occasion eating. Participants tried samples of angel food cake with fresh strawberries, pretzels, baked chips, 94 percent fat-free microwave popcorn and water.

Bokman then engaged the youth in 30 minutes of continuous aerobic activity, which can consist of warming up or playing a game. Two of the weeks, parents join in on the activity time instead of meeting with one of the health professionals.

"I try to mix it up as best as I can. They're happy to get up and get moving. They love working out with their parents," said Bokman, who talks to his students about the amount of time they spend in front of a TV and computer.

The program

The Outreach Department at Washington County Hospital started a pilot program, Fit & Fun, in April 2008. The program was developed in response to requests from local physicians who were frustrated because there were no similar programs to which they could refer young patients and their families.

Those coordinating the local program decided to switch from the 12-week program to the similar nine-week KidShape program, which had measurable results.

Families are referred to the program by physicians or school nurses. They must have permission from their doctors to participate.

Locally, the funding for the materials comes from Maryland Physicians Care, and Washington County Hospital pays the salaries.

"We empower families to eat healthy, move more and feel good," according to the program's Web site at www.kidshape.com. Through the national program, "more than 12,000 kids and their families have graduated from KidShape. Eighty-seven percent of those have lost weight, and 80 percent of those who lost weight have kept it off for at least two years," the Web site notes.

Height, weight, pulse, blood pressure and body mass index are monitored throughout, followed by quarterly checkups after families complete the program. By the middle of this last session, the weight and BMI of half of the children had gone down.

Participating families keep food diaries and use a fitness tracker to monitor their progress.

Ben Forrest, 10, of Maugansville, said he enjoys exercising with Bokman, even though he doesn't agree with his taste in football. Bokman is a Baltimore Ravens fan.

Ben's younger brother, Thomas, 8, and parents Beth and Mark Forrest, also are participating in the program. Beth Forrest said the family has begun making better food choices.

Ben has discovered a new snack, apples with peanut butter, through the program.

"I would say Andrew's part is what they all look forward to the most. He's fantastic with the kids," Beth Forrest said.

Debbie Fritz of Spring Mills, W.Va., attends with her 11-year-old son, Jake.

Jake said Bokman tries to make exercising fun, with new activities each week.

Fritz said she hopes Jake improves his eating habits. He mentions pomegranates as one of the new foods he's tried as a result of the program. She likes the suggestion to thin ranch dressing with fat-free buttermilk to cut calories.

Self-esteem also factors in.

"I liked the night they taught them to walk tall. They came back from the gym walking tall," Debbie Fritz said.

More information about KidShape can be obtained by calling Carol Grove, R.N., at 301-790-8907.

The next session begins Jan. 20.

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