YMCA brings families together to learn good eating, exercise habits

  • Mon Jan 16th, 2012 3:03pm
  • Life

By Theresa Goffredo Herald Writer

Small changes can produce big results.

That’s the goal of the YMCA program called ACT!, which stands for Actively Changing Together.

ACT! aims to create healthier habits for youngsters and their families, one baby step at a time.

So instead of focusing on making obese kids drop pounds, the emphasis in ACT! is on breaking bad eating habits, learning nutrition principles and being more active.

“Our program goal is to make small changes within the family as opposed to, let’s get this kid to lose weight,” said Gael Thomson, wellness director at the Y.

Those small changes include limiting sugary foods at home and spending less time sitting in front of a television set, and instead playing an active family game once a week.

“Substituting one thing for another,” Thomson said. “TV time is one of the biggest challenges we have as parents right now. That and sitting in front of the computer. The kids are not burning any calories at all. And then the parents are doing the same thing.”

Another key to the ACT! program is that it’s a family affair: A parent or guardian must participate in the program along with the child.

With parents taking the lead, the whole family benefits.

“These kids are overweight or at risk of being overweight or obese,” Thomson said. “So we realized we can’t help the kids without the parents being involved.”

ACT! is presented in partnership with the YMCA of Snohomish County, The Everett Clinic and Providence Physicians Group.

It’s a 12-week program for families with children ages 8 to 11. The ACT! program offers a 90-minute session each week led by a nutritionist and a physical activity coach.

Children must be referred by a health care provider and have a BMI — fat to muscle ratio — in the 85th percentile or higher, though Thomson said she would consider enrolling kids whose parents are concerned about their weight.

“We have one girl that is not even overweight, but her brother and her family are overweight and they are all eating the same way, so we need to change their habits or it’s going to catch up with her,” Thomson said.

During each session, the families spend time playing a noncompetitive game or activities with the sports coach.

Believers in the ACT! program say it’s working.

A look at participants from six diverse sites in King and Snohomish counties from 2009 to 2010 showed an increase in the amount of vegetables families ate for dinner; an increase in sports participation; greater confidence to engage in physical activity; a drop in time eating dinner in front of the TV; and a drop in BMI levels for 41 percent of the kids (an additional 35 percent had stable BMI results).

During ACT! sessions, parents can talk to one of the Y’s life coaches about issues that might be affecting their families, such as bullying.

Thomson recalled one girl in the program who was timid because she was being bullied at school because of her weight.

“After the program, she had a sense of confidence, which helped keep the bullies away, and she was able to make friends and be more secure,” Thomson said. “She didn’t lose weight, but she just felt better about herself. That’s a testament to how good the program is.”

Theresa Goffredo: 425-339-3424 or goffredo@heraldnet.com

Sign up

ACT! (Actively Changing Together) kicks off with a family rally from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Feb. 7 at the Everett Family YMCA, 2720 Rockefeller Ave., Everett.

Sessions will be held from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays.

To register call Gael Thomson at 425-374-5703 or email her at gthomson@ymca-snoco.

Financial assistance is available. The program also is offered in the fall.

For more information click on the program guide on the Y website, www.ymca-snoco.org/everett.