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Fighting Childhood Obesity

Volunteers engage kids in nutrition and exercise after school

Broadening horizons

The program focuses on low-income neighborhoods, where there often are fewer grocery stores and food choices.

“It’s a sad fact,” said Lauren Benoit, who coordinates Active Generations in Albany, “but many of these kids have never seen a kiwi or red pepper. Not only do we show them all these different foods, but we also send letters home each week, in English and Spanish, talking about healthy snacks like yogurt.” Eight classes, with eight to 15 children each, have been held in Albany since 2008.

Even picky eaters can be persuaded to taste new foods.

“Lauren introduced a great thing,” said Dew. “It’s called a ‘no, thank you’ bite. The kids have to try the food at least once. Then, if they don’t like it, they can say ‘no, thank you.’ ”

Gaining momentum

Eating right helps, but kids also need to exercise to maintain a normal weight.

Today, children don’t play outside as much. Even if safe recreation areas are available, the lure of TV, video and computer games is always there.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides detailed state-by-state statistics on obesity for adults and children. Their findings? Obesity rates for children 6 to 11 have more than doubled in the last 20 years.

Exercise is an important component of the program. In the Golden State, Bob Widerkehr had taken classes offered by OASIS. He volunteered with Active Generations in Escondido and was happy to help with the games. “The thing that the kids love the most is the parachute game,” said Widerkehr, 72. “It’s really just a big nylon square that they hold up and run in and out of, but it’s a lot of exercise,” he said. “Some of them actually work up a sweat playing the games.”

Widerkehr, the grandfather of four, is retired from the pharmaceutical industry. “I hope it’s as much fun for the kids as it is for me.”

Getting more than they give

Pauline Savage, 74, a retired banking professional, never had any children of her own. She volunteers with Active Generations in Pittsburgh.

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