YMCA program helps youth, families control their weight

  • Mon Jun 11th, 2012 9:51pm
  • Life

By Andrea Brown, Special to The Herald

There is life after Lucky Charms cereal.

And, for this Everett family, it’s pretty sweet.

Magically delicious marshmallows got the boot from their pantry after completing Actively Changing Together, a free 12-week YMCA program for overweight youth ages 8 to 14 and their families.

“It’s about making better choices,” Karla Felt said.

Her son, Kobe, was referred to ACT last fall by his Everett Clinic pediatrician.

“The doctor kind of mentioned he was getting a little thicker,” she said. “He was 13 and kind of growing. Knowing from my own family history I couldn’t let that happen. I’m overweight and diabetic.”

Kids must be referred to ACT by a doctor and have a body mass index at or above the 85th percentile.

The 90-minute weekly curriculum is a family commitment, requiring the participation at least one parent.

Siblings of any size or shape can attend. Twelve-year-old Mia Felt isn’t obese, but she goes with her brother and mom. Also welcome are skinny dads like Ross Felt, who is 6-foot-3 and weighs about 180, though he prefers to stay home.

ACT is a partnership with the YMCA of Snohomish County, Seattle Children’s Hospital, Everett Clinic and Providence Physicians Group to address the growing spread of childhood obesity.

Sessions are led by a nutritionist and a physical activity coach.

Kids don’t weigh in.

“We don’t talk about weight,” Everett YMCA wellness director Gael Thomson said. “When kids get attached to weight rather than become healthy, they become unhealthy.”

Thomson brings more to the program than your typical lean, energetic fitness crusader.

“I feel like I can empathize with families and the struggles they go through every day,” Thomson said. “My daughter is obese. It’s triple worse for me because I’m the wellness director.”

Success is measured in lifestyle changes, not pounds. Many kids do not lose weight, Thomson said, but more importantly, they don’t gain weight. Plus, they watch less TV, exercise more and eat healthier.

The ACT completion rate is iffy.

“About 50 percent drop out by the time the 12 weeks is finished. We started with 20 people and ended with 12,” Thomson said.

It’s not a sports program.

“We don’t teach them how to play baseball,” she said. “We teach them to be active. They run around, jump, play have fun.

“They learn about portion sizes, fat grams and carbs.”

It hit home for the Felts.

“You see how much sugar goes into a can of soda. You have a better understanding of what are you putting into your body,” Karla Felt said.

It has boosted self-esteem for Kobe and Mia.

“Kobe tried out for basketball,” Karla Felt said. “He would have never done that before. They both run track. They wouldn’t have had the confidence to do that before.

“We go to the Y on a regular basis. It’s not a drag-and-pull thing. They want to go. They still watch TV. It’s not a focus.”

They still long for cereal with rainbow colored stars, moons and hearts.

“They’re still teenage kids who want to eat everything,” she said.

Learn more

The next ACT! session starts in September at all YMCA of Snohomish County branches.

For information: ymca-snoco.org.