By Michilea Patterson, The Mercury
Families in the Pottstown area can get fit together with a free program that helps parents bond with their children over healthy choices.
The wellness program is called “Healthy Choices, Healthy Families” and is through Creative Health Services. Participants get guidance from a registered dietitian, personal trainer and parenting coach for one full year at no cost. The program is based on the concept that when families decide to make healthier choices as a unit then it will lead to better choices for a lifetime.
“It’s about creating sustainable change through the accountability, encouragement and support a family can provide. The old, ‘All for one and one for all!’ said Kirsten Freitag Murray, the director of development and public relations at Creative Health Services.
Murray is also the parenting coach for the free family wellness program. She said the program is not only about learning to enjoy healthy activities but also about having fun doing so as a family.
“Healthy lifestyle patterns, traditions and memories will be formed that will increase the wellbeing of each individual and bond that family together for a lifetime,” she said.
Jessica Garnett, the registered dietitian for the family program, said it was started a few years ago as a result of the needs assessment done by the Pottstown Area Health & Wellness Foundation. The assessment found that there were high obesity rates in the area and there was a need for family education programs, she said.
In 2011, there was a two-month summer pilot for the program which became a two-year format by 2012. Recently the program was changed from being a two-year education program to one year. Murray said the length change will create less obstacles for families to complete the program.
“Research shows that effective childhood obesity programs involving nutrition and physical activity as well as parenting and behavioral components run a one-year course, with follow-up,” she said.
In addition to the length, the name of the program has also changed. It used to be called “Healthy Weight, Healthy Families.” Now the word “weight” has been replaced with “choices.”
“Our goals are to support parents and families as they learn strategies to shape healthful eating, lifelong physical activity and positive relational behaviors, so ‘choices’ replacing ‘weight’ in the title makes a lot of sense,” Garnett said adding that also children would be more willing to tell their friends they’re part of a healthy choices program rather than a healthy weight one.
Several families recently graduated from the healthy program so there are now open spaces for new families.
“Creative Health Services and the Pottstown Area Health & Wellness Foundation have partnered since 2011 to pave the way for community success in the fight against childhood obesity. As we know, 1 in 3 children in the U.S. are considered overweight or obese,” said Dr. Andrew Trentacoste, CEO and clinical director at Creative Health Services. “Absolutely all of the families who have participated in Healthy Choices, Healthy Families gained new knowledge, skills and behaviors as they worked to establish more nutritious eating habits and increased physical activity.”
The healthy choices program is open to families with an eight to 12-year-old child that struggles with being overweight or obese. The child must be in the 85th percentile or higher according to a body mass index calculation. Also the family must live within a 10 miles radius of Pottstown Memorial Medical Center.
“We have no income restrictions or anything in the program so anyone that needs it can be in it,” Garnett said.
The family wellness program is free to participants because of funding from the Pottstown Area Health & Wellness Foundation.
All families in the program will get a complimentary YMCA membership and will meet a personal trainer from Fresh Start Fitness twice a week. Participants will also workout outdoors sometimes. Families will have exercise sessions with other participants of the program. Parents and children take the presidential fitness test so they can see how much they improve by the end of the program.
“We’re constantly monitoring their progress. It’s kind of neat to look at it from the start of the program to a year later to see … how much they’ve improved,” Garnett said.
The participants will also meet with Garnett twice a week to talk about nutrition and making healthy eating choices. Garnett does home visits and meets the families at the workout sessions.
“I really just gear everything toward the individual family, their wants and their needs. I’m constantly asking them what they want to learn about or what they would like more information on,” she said.
Garnett said a lot of people have the misconception that eating healthy means not enjoying your food. She said she never tells a family to completely eliminate a food.
“I want you to learn how to have all the foods that you like and do it a healthy way,” she said.
Families will also learn nutrition education by visiting the Mosaic community gardens in Pottstown. They will learn how food comes from the ground and gets to the dinner table, Garnett said.
The last piece of the family wellness program is parenting coaching.
“Effective pediatric obesity interventions include a parenting component because the parent is the ultimate decision maker in the grocery aisle, at home when meals are being prepared and also as to how free time will be spent,” Murray said.
Trentacoste said interested families are encouraged to contact Creative Health Services to learn more.
“Let us help a family you know with an 8- to 12-year-old child struggling with a healthy weight. This is the perfect developmental time to introduce new knowledge to encourage positive attitudes and behaviors that will lead to a healthier lifestyle,” he said.
For more information about Healthy Choices, Healthy Families, contact Garnett at the email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 484-941-0500 ext. 1217. For more about creating and maintaining vital bonds including those between parents and children, contact Creative Health Services by calling 484-941-0500 or visiting the website at creativehs.org.