Finding fun in fitness

MEGAN BADGER / WIRE PHOTO
Fitness specialist Jenn Conway teaches Gabrielle Williams to use the leg press during a BMI Busters class last week. The class teaches nutrition and exercise to students ages 7 to 14.

By Megan Badger

Wire Managing Editor

Childhood obesity has become more prevalent than ever before. Today, approximately 17 percent of U.S. children are obese, a number that has tripled since 1980, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Greater Plymouth Community Center is fighting against this statistic with its new fitness program for children, BMI Busters.

BMI Busters is a four-week program designed for children ages 7 to 14 who are overweight, or who simply want to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Ed Bauso, a fitness trainer at the community center, developed the program last January and serves as the coordinator. The program takes place three times a week and is offered in seven or eight sessions each year.

“This program is a revision of a previous program called the Youth Strength Training Program,” Bauso explained. “So we based it around that but changed things up and turned it around, and it became a lot bigger hit.

“I think parents thought it was more focused on sports and athletes, so now that we’ve changed it around we get both — we get kids who are slightly overweight but we get other kids who are off from their sport and the parents want to keep them active,” he added.

While the program’s purpose is to fight childhood obesity, there is not a lot of emphasis on individual weight. The program teaches proper nutrition and exercise, with weekly weigh-ins used as part of the overall lesson.

“We weigh them each week and we give them prizes. It’s not really a competition, we use it more of a guideline and we give them a reward,” Bauso explained. “It’s not like you get punished if you don’t lose weight. Kids are different and they’re growing. We make it so they’re aware of what they’re weighing in at, but we don’t really emphasize that a lot.”

The instructor teaches nutrition education each week and gives the kids a chance to create a healthy snack at the end of the program. In the past, snacks included create-your-own trail mix, fruit kabobs and lemon sorbet.

In addition to traditional weight training, the program also incorporates video games and physical education games. The children typically spend 45 minutes in the children’s Active Zone, where they warm up with video games before using the weight training equipment. They then spend another 45 minutes in the gym running around playing games.

During warm ups, the children can use three different gaming devices: Xbox Kinect, Nintendo Wii and a PS3 Move. All are designed to facilitate movement.

“We use it for warm-ups just to get the kids moving, especially if they’re not as athletic, or they’re a gamer and this way it gets them in both worlds,” Bauso said. “I’m always changing games out but it’s hard because you’re looking for games that involve movement. They can do a lot of games on the Kinect and PS3 where it’s not a lot of movement, so you have to be selective.”

The weight training machines, created by Hoist Equipment, are specifically designed for children ages 7 to 14. The machines are smaller and incorporate multiple muscles with each workout. The equipment is designed to facilitate more movement, making a typical exercise more interesting.

The Active Zone is also open during the week for member use, allowing parents and children to come to the community center together to exercise. The room is open Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:30 to 8 p.m. with provided supervision.

The BMI Busters is a unique program and has been recognized for its innovation. The Parks and Recreation Society of Pennsylvania awarded it the title of Best New Program in the wellness category in 2012. The program also received citations from Rep. Mike Gerber and Plymouth Township for its success.

For more information or to register for BMI Busters, visit www.plymouthcommunitycenter.org or call 610–277–4312.