Arts and Entertainment

GIVE WELLNESS A TRI | No child left on his behind

New What's Up contributor Lisa Ballou, Iron-woman, Seabeck resident, founder of the Kitsap Tribabes, lays out what we can do to fight childhood obesity.

Almost any piece of health-related literature these days is a reminder that childhood obesity is a growing trend in the United States.

The contributing factors to this problem are numerous and obvious: sedentary, technologically based leisure activities such as video games and texting replacing more “physical fun” like bike riding and general “playing outside”; parental time constraints and economic realities necessitating that pre-packaged and “fast” food replace fresh cooking. We’ve heard these problems listed numerous times.

Given that this growing obesity rate is, at base, a health issue, it is very heartening to see that the Kitsap County Medical Society Foundation (KCMSF) has chosen not to complain but rather, to promote their positive Campaign Against Childhood Obesity each year. For the past two years, as a part of this campaign, I have conducted assemblies at Kitsap County elementary schools encouraging children to join a fitness program in which they complete daily fitness activities and log them so they can chart their progress.

On assembly day, I bring in the four medals I've received from completing Ironman triathlons. I discuss with the children the difference between fitness and non-fitness activities and the benefits of taking small, daily steps toward life long fitness. I wear clothing decorated with turtles to signify the importance of the “slow, steady” approach. These assemblies conclude with me running and/or walking a half mile with the children around their school so they can see the first step on their fitness journey. The children flock to see my medals, gladly take my hand and are willing to be cajoled into fitness. Over the next months, I can’t make it out of the supermarket without at least one child running up to me saying, “you were that turtle triathlon lady that came to my school.” They gush about how many fitness miles they have logged and I am amazed at how such a small effort in terms of education pays such large dividends in obesity prevention.

The fitness program culminates in the free community Fun Run at the fairgrounds and organized by Kitsap residents Rebecca Carlson and Katie Perrone. This year’s event on May 31 had more than 700 participants. My work with KCMSF’s Campaign Against Childhood Obesity has illuminated the need to approach this problem on two levels. Certainly, the obesity problem must be approached on the level of individual education. Children and parents need to be continually educated about the most current information in nutritional and physical fitness research findings. But, the individual knowledge of these children must be reinforced with community support. These children’s expanding community of parents, teachers, and county leaders must model healthy habits for them, provide consistent opportunities for fitness, and make it a priority.

At the assemblies, teachers were asked to participate by dressing up in their favorite fitness apparel. I introduced these teachers as fitness warriors. The teachers’ participation made a huge impact on the students and certainly got the biggest round of applause. There was a direct correlation between the schools at which the teachers demonstrated the most enthusiasm for the fitness assembly and those with the highest number of students at the fun run.

When parents prioritize fitness in their own lives, when teachers discuss a connection between smart minds and strong bodies, and when community leaders organize events that celebrate fitness, we create healthier and happier children. Thanks to KCMSF and the Campaign Against Childhood Obesity for making fitness fun in Kitsap County.

Seabeck resident Lisa Ballou is the founder of the Kitsap Tribabes and TriTurtle Wellness.

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