BodyWorks aims to help children, families with overall well-being

February 15, 2013|By MEG H. PARTINGTON |
  • Tasting banana-strawberry yogurt smoothies in the BodyWorks class are, from left, brothers Josh Blankenship and Zack Blankenship, and their mother, Jennifer Tilley, of Bolivar W.Va.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

 Parents and caregivers have the power to lead the adolescents in their homes down a healthful path.

A free program called BodyWorks, created by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health, provides adults and adolescents with the information they need to make good health and physical activity a family affair. It puts adults in a role-modeling position while emphasizing the importance of including young people in the decisions that can enhance their well-being.

"It really is a program for families," said Denise Ryan, regional program director for Change the Future WV and a trainer for the BodyWorks program offered on the City Hospital campus in Martinsburg. "We would like to help people find new and different ways to get healthy."

The eight-week program, which is offered twice a year in Martinsburg, includes lessons on meal planning, shopping and eating together, portion sizes and healthful food choices. Ryan said she touches on topics such as goal setting, how the media affects what people eat and the importance of reading nutrition labels instead of relying on claims made in advertisements.

Each of the 105-minute weekly sessions also features physical activity.

"It's not just about the eating," said Sue Flanagan, agent for families and health for the West Virginia University Extension Service in Berkeley County, W.Va.

Participants receive a free "tool kit" that includes a video on shopping for and cooking healthful foods, food and fitness journals and a weekly meal planner, said Dana DeJarnett, health promotion specialist for West Virginia University Hospitals-East and a BodyWorks trainer.

The curriculum originally was created for adolescent girls and their female caregivers, but "men wanted equal time," said Flanagan, who also teaches BodyWorks.

The curriculum was amended to add information relevant to adolescent boys and their male caregivers, DeJarnett said. The BodyWorks tool kit now includes a manual for boys and addresses topics such as male-specific portion sizes and vitamin recommendations, she said.

As a result, the makeup of the classes has expanded from just mothers and daughters to fathers and sons, plus grandparents.

Physicians, nurses, lawyers and police officers are among those who have attended with their children, a diversity that leads to plenty of information sharing.

"It's great when you see people collaborate," Ryan said.

Healthier eating

Adults often believe it's expensive and difficult to cook healthful meals, Flanagan said. That misconception can lead to less-than-ideal food selections.

"Too many of us have fallen into that trap of not making good choices," Flanagan said.

"Parents don't feel they have the right skills for cooking," she added, so BodyWorks aims to show how simple healthful meals can be to prepare.

No cooking is done during the sessions, but recipe books and snacks are provided, along with a healthy dose of information.

"It's about learning about the food you eat," said Ryan, who is based at the Berkeley County Health Department in Martinsburg.

"There are no bad foods," Flanagan said. "There are sometimes foods and the always foods."

The "sometimes" category contains treats such as chips, candy and cinnamon rolls, while the "always" list includes fruits, raw vegetables and whole grains, Flanagan said.

Ryan said "portion distortion" is discussed, and participants learn about dietary substitutions such as turning to leafy greens and other vegetables, not just dairy products, for their body's daily dose of calcium.

The program is more about healthful eating than weight loss, though participants might see the numbers on the scale drop as a positive side effect, Flanagan said.

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