Program promotes healthy living in children

In an effort to conquer childhood obesity, Chilliwack YMCA is providing the MEND program, free of charge, for overweight children.

Chilliwack YMCA

Childhood obesity doesn’t end without a buy in from the kids.

That’s the message a Chilliwack program is trying to relay to both children and their parents.

MEND, which stands for Mind, Exercise, Nutrition, Do it, is a free program giving children, and their families, the tools necessary to embrace a healthier lifestyle.

Through fun, engaging activities.

The program, coordinated by Chilliwack YMCA and supported by the B.C. Health Ministry and the Childhood Obesity Foundation, is designed for children between the ages of 7 and 13 who are above a healthy weight for their body size.

“In Chilliwack and the Fraser Valley alone, about 35 to 40 per cent of kids are above a healthy weight,” said Andrea Gieselman, kinesiologist and MEND coordinator.

The health implications of being overweight are frightening – and not just the longterm effects.

“We’re seeing more and more cases of heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes creeping into younger and younger age groups,” said Gieselman. “A lot of those are lifestyle impacted ailments.”

MEND is a 10-week program with two two-hour sessions a week.

Developed in the UK 13 years ago by a group of registered dietitians, behavioural psychologists and leading experts in exercise, it’s had more than 10,000 families successfully complete.

It’s not a diet, a weight-loss fad, or bootcamp. Kids are not strapped to a chair and fed reams of confusing scientific information for hours. Rather, they’re included in the conversation and are introduced to fun games to help them better understand nutrition labels, unrefined foods versus refined foods, healthy fats and sugars versus non-healthy.

One way is through MEND Detective.

Every child participant is given a wallet-sized information card with a magnifying glass attached. With their magnifiers, they review labels and sleuth out the MEND friendly and MEND unfriendly ingredients.

“We’re not telling them they can’t eat MEND unfriendly ingredients, we just want them to be more aware and eat more of the MEND friendly ingredients,” said Gieselman.

“We’re asking families to make small changes and we’re equipping them with the information and tools to make those changes manageable.”

There’s also a physical activity component that has kids playing games, like “rock-paper-scissors Olympics, to get their heart rates elevated, their breathing intensified, and most important, their laughter roaring.

“A lot of these kids really lack confidence in a physical setting,” said Gieselman. “The MEND physical activity component really helps build their confidence.”

The program isn’t just for kids though. At least one parent or guardian is required to attend the session, where they, too, will learn things like how to eat healthy on a budget, and how to incorporate MEND principles into a busy day, or at a restaurant.

“Role modeling is so important,” said Gieselman.

“Getting kids to change their habits at an early age sets them up for longterm success.”

MEND uses the Body Mass Index scale to determine healthy weight.

The program starts on May 1 at Chilliwack secondary and runs on Thursdays from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturdays from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Participating families will be provided with a three-month family membership to the YMCA during the program, and those that complete will receive an additional three-month pass.

For more information, contact Andrea Gieselman at 604-799-3732 or agieselmanymca@gmail.com.

kbartel@theprogress.com

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