Boys & Girls Clubs teaching healthy habits

By Michelle Dupler, Tri-City HeraldJune 3, 2012 

After snacking on peaches and granola one afternoon this week, children at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Benton and Franklin Counties headed outside for some water-soaked fun.

The highlight of their play was a round of water baseball that added wading pools to the usual baseball diamond. Children swatted the ball, then ran and dunked at each "base" with glee.

It was an afternoon of sheer, unadulterated fun, and only later would staff at the Pasco center draw the connection that it also was the kind of exercise that could help keep them healthy.

Boys & Girls Clubs President Brian Ace told the Herald that healthy eating and healthy habits are a core part of what the clubs offer children who participate in programs there.

"We design the program to be fun -- that's important -- but we also want to add that fitness program to keep kids moving," Ace said.

He said the national Boys & Girls Clubs organization formed a partnership with Coca-Cola and Wellpoint Foundation several years ago to develop a program called Triple Play to promote a healthy mind, body and soul.

The program has various components that include offering healthy snacks and teaching children about nutrition, and incorporating physical activity into their time at the club.

The program is offered at all 11 program sites in the Mid-Columbia, Ace said.

"More than anything (Triple Play) focused our work so that it bleeds into other things we're doing as well," he said.

The club starts teaching children as young as 3 about healthy eating and the importance of activity.

"Obesity is an epidemic facing our nation and it starts early," Ace said.

Statistics from the American Heart Association show one in three children are overweight or obese, meaning they have a body-mass index at or above the 85th percentile for their age.

The statistics also show overweight adolescents have a 70 percent chance of becoming overweight adults, and an 80 percent chance if their parents also are overweight or obese.

So the Boys & Girls Clubs aren't just teaching the children who come in for their programs -- they're also working with parents.

Andrea Locati, director of the Pasco branch, said that twice a month the Pasco center offers a family night when parents and children can come get a free, healthy meal and get some physical activity together as a family.

The meals always include a fresh vegetable or salad along with the main course, and staff make sure the basic food groups are covered.

"We're showing them good choices," Locati said.

The goal is for children and parents to gain the knowledge to make healthy food selections when they're out on their own, and to understand that it's important -- and fun -- to get moving.

"I think this is essential for us as a community," Ace said. "Here we are in a huge agricultural region where we have access to so many food choices. What a great place to encourage (healthy behaviors) with our kids."

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