Health & Medicine

Program targets childhood obesity

The start of the year is the traditional time for new beginnings in our lives. And usually that means becoming more fit.

My husband gave me a Wii Fit Plus for Christmas.

Fortunately, just as I had settled on an appropriate punishment for him, I actually began to like it. I found myself having fun while giving my body some much-needed exercise.

Getting families up and moving is the hope behind "Walking Works — A Path to Fitness," which focuses on children. Childhood obesity has been the No. 1 public health concern in the United States for several years.

Walking Works — a partnership among the Kentucky chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the YMCAs in Fayette and Jefferson counties and Northern Kentucky, and The Anthem Foundation — is trying to change that ranking.

Mary York, executive director of the Kentucky AAP, said the seeds of the program were planted by the insurance company Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, which offered a kit that contained nutritional information and a pedometer to pediatricians who were treating obese patients.

Although it showed concern for the rising rates of childhood obesity in America, the program basically left the implementation to families, York said.

In 2007, York and the chapter applied for and received a $95,000 grant from The Anthem Foundation to take the program much further by offering hands-on help to families struggling to counter-punch a nationwide epidemic.

With Walking Works, participants must be referred by pediatricians, so medical personnel are very much involved. Plus, York said, about 250 medical students and residents at the University of Kentucky, the University of Louisville and the University of Cincinnati who are interested in pediatrics have signed up to monitor children and have at least two contacts with them in six months.

Once the family is accepted into the program, it receives a six-month free membership to the YMCA, plus two free sessions with one of 30 personal trainers. The family also gets one free session with one of 10 nutritionists to get their dietary guidelines in order.

More than 660 children have participated in the six-month program, said Tony Felts, spokesman for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Kentucky. Nearly 200 are currently enrolled.

In other words, the program helps children make lifestyle changes so they won't need a Wii Fit when they are 58 years old.

Kentucky is one of the most obese states in the nation. According to reports last year from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, one in four adults in Kentucky is obese. We rank seventh out of 50 states in adult obesity.

But what is worse is that we rank fourth for obese children.

Walking Works "has changed their life course," York said. "It has increased their activity levels and makes them understand and become more aware of what they are eating and of their soda consumption. It is a healthy path for the rest of their lives."

To be accepted into the program, the child must have a body mass index, or BMI, in the 85th percentile or higher. The pediatrician can determine that.

Then the doctor, the parent or the guardian must complete an application at the doctor's office, if it's available there, or online at

"We are interested in the amount of time spent doing activities versus the amount of time spent in front of a computer or TV," said Delle M. Blair, program coordinator.

York agreed. "We're not changing the BMI in six months," he said. "We're trying to stabilize the weight gain and then turn it around."

She said the chapter has applied for another two-year grant to continue the program.

We adults need to make good choices for our children, and if they are obese, this program is where we should start.

Contact Blair at for more information.