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YRMC Foundation kicks off this year's YOUTH Initiative Program
Today’s children will not live longer than their parents due to obesity.
"It’s heartbreaking to think that our current generation of children are not expected to outlive their parents because of obesity and, already at a young age, many of these kids are developing additional health risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes," noted Dennis McGregor, a committee member of the YOUTH (Yumans’ Obesity Undermines Their Health) Initiative.
In Arizona, more than a third of children are obese. The numbers are even more alarming among minorities. Nearly 52 percent of Mexican-American boys and nearly 37 percent of Mexican-American girls are overweight.
"It’s sobering to know that 80 percent of today’s obese kids will become obese adults," McGregor said.
The cost of health care to treat the effects of childhood obesity is estimated at $14 billion a year.
"If we don’t so something about that now, that cost will only grow," McGregor noted.
The Foundation of Yuma Regional Medical Center held a kick-off event Tuesday at Pasquinelli’s Produce Company for this year’s YOUTH Initiative, a program that funds projects that reduce obesity in Yuma.
The foundation presented a check for $44,316 to local schools and nonprofit organizations for this year’s program.
Since the start of the YOUTH Initiative, the foundation has granted more than $155,000 for local efforts to combat obesity. Ranging from school walking programs to the city’s Fast Feet 5/10K runs and walks, these projects get kids moving.
The foundation has also supported the Girl Scouts with a special achievement award, a San Luis youth center with a boxing program, as well as other programs and activities.
The initiative’s signature Walk for Wellness Mileage Club is modeled after a successful program started at Gary Knox Elementary. During recess or after school, students run or walk laps to earn tokens, which they wear on "achievement chains." By the end of the school year, some students have several strands of tokens, which they proudly wear.
The tokens give them something "tangible" to measure their progress, noted Ranae Steen, the school’s program coordinator.
But eventually students don’t need that motivation. "They reach a point where they don’t want the tokens. Kids realize walking is a form of exercise and it’s pretty easy. It’s fun, it’s helpful," she explained.
The program has yielded impressive results at Gary Knox. Steen began to measure the body mass index of kids in 2010. In three years, the school’s obesity rate dropped from 52 percent to 43 percent.
"I know what we’re doing is having an impact. We do get results and it does make a difference," Steen said. "It’s definitely a nice push in the right direction. It would be nice if more schools came aboard so all kids can take advantage."
More schools have been joining the program through the years. It started in 2008 with one school and 400 students and now nine schools and 6,000 students participate, according to Wayne Steffey, the foundation’s executive director.
In Yuma, Mileage Club students have walked enough miles to circle the globe nearly three times.
"That’s what this program is about. Teaching kids to exercise instead of sitting around texting," said Eve Scarff, chairman of the YOUTH Initiative.
And at less than $8 per student per year, she pointed out, the YOUTH Initiative is a cost-effective way of integrating physical activity into kids’ daily lives.
The effects are rippling through the community, as students’ parents and grandparents also become more active.
"We’re finding ways to combat obesity, not just in school children, but in all the population," Steffey said. "We’ve heard from parents, ‘You really changed our family culture.’ That’s what we want. We want to get people moving, thinking about what they’re eating and making changes."
The foundation is asking the community "to help us fight the epidemic of obesity in Yuma by becoming a supporter of the YOUTH Initiative," McGregor said. "The key to continuing our programs and expanding their impact is the charitable support we receive from the community."
To find out how to help, contact Shirley Phillips at (928) 336-2406 or firstname.lastname@example.org.