Parents and caregivers have the power to lead the adolescents in their homes down a healthful path.
A free program called BodyWorks, created by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health, provides adults and adolescents with the information they need to make good health and physical activity a family affair. It puts adults in a role-modeling position while emphasizing the importance of including young people in the decisions that can enhance their well-being.
"It really is a program for families," said Denise Ryan, regional program director for Change the Future WV and a trainer for the BodyWorks program offered on the City Hospital campus in Martinsburg. "We would like to help people find new and different ways to get healthy."
The eight-week program, which is offered twice a year in Martinsburg, includes lessons on meal planning, shopping and eating together, portion sizes and healthful food choices. Ryan said she touches on topics such as goal setting, how the media affects what people eat and the importance of reading nutrition labels instead of relying on claims made in advertisements.
Each of the 105-minute weekly sessions also features physical activity.
"It's not just about the eating," said Sue Flanagan, agent for families and health for the West Virginia University Extension Service in Berkeley County, W.Va.
Participants receive a free "tool kit" that includes a video on shopping for and cooking healthful foods, food and fitness journals and a weekly meal planner, said Dana DeJarnett, health promotion specialist for West Virginia University Hospitals-East and a BodyWorks trainer.
The curriculum originally was created for adolescent girls and their female caregivers, but "men wanted equal time," said Flanagan, who also teaches BodyWorks.
The curriculum was amended to add information relevant to adolescent boys and their male caregivers, DeJarnett said. The BodyWorks tool kit now includes a manual for boys and addresses topics such as male-specific portion sizes and vitamin recommendations, she said.
As a result, the makeup of the classes has expanded from just mothers and daughters to fathers and sons, plus grandparents.
Physicians, nurses, lawyers and police officers are among those who have attended with their children, a diversity that leads to plenty of information sharing.
"It's great when you see people collaborate," Ryan said.
Adults often believe it's expensive and difficult to cook healthful meals, Flanagan said. That misconception can lead to less-than-ideal food selections.
"Too many of us have fallen into that trap of not making good choices," Flanagan said.
"Parents don't feel they have the right skills for cooking," she added, so BodyWorks aims to show how simple healthful meals can be to prepare.
No cooking is done during the sessions, but recipe books and snacks are provided, along with a healthy dose of information.
"It's about learning about the food you eat," said Ryan, who is based at the Berkeley County Health Department in Martinsburg.
"There are no bad foods," Flanagan said. "There are sometimes foods and the always foods."
The "sometimes" category contains treats such as chips, candy and cinnamon rolls, while the "always" list includes fruits, raw vegetables and whole grains, Flanagan said.
Ryan said "portion distortion" is discussed, and participants learn about dietary substitutions such as turning to leafy greens and other vegetables, not just dairy products, for their body's daily dose of calcium.
The program is more about healthful eating than weight loss, though participants might see the numbers on the scale drop as a positive side effect, Flanagan said.
Staying fit doesn't have to be expensive.
Being in good physical condition does not require a costly gym membership, Ryan said, but rather a commitment to activities that can be done throughout a person's lifetime.
Fitness options taught during the BodyWorks sessions include Zumba, hula hooping, Wii games, calisthenics, stretching, walking and jumping rope.
DeJarnett said a lot of heart-pumping, body-strengthening moves can be done at home, including climbing stairs, squatting and using chairs as props for workouts.
'Excelling' at improving health
Participating in BodyWorks has inspired Zack Blankenship so much that he created an Excel spreadsheet tracking his family's daily exercises, including goals. He adds up the total number of exercises they do each day and logs it on the sheet.
"It's kind of fun," Zack's 10-year-old brother, Josh Blankenship, said about exercising.
In on the energizing entertainment is their mother, Jennifer Tilley, 41, who said she signed up for the program because she thought it would be good for her sons to learn about healthful eating and exercise to prevent them from struggling with their weight like she has in the past.
Among the exercises the Bolivar, W.Va., trio incorporates into their daily regimen are sit-ups, push-ups, planks, lunges, burpees and jumping jacks.
"It's been fun," Tilley said of taking BodyWorks with her children.
Josh said he still has some work to do.
"I could learn to eat healthier," he said.
Among the 28 participants at the Feb. 12 session were father-and-daughter team John and Emma Stover of Summit Point, W.Va.
Emma, 10, said her mother, Tina Stover, did BodyWorks four years ago with Emma's sister, Elizabeth, now 14.
"My mom said it was a really good class," Emma said. She added that one of the lessons she has learned so far is "to eat everything in moderation."
John Stover, 42, said one nugget of information he got from the recent class was "slow down."
Flanagan had just finished discussing "distracted eating," during which people don't pay attention to how much they're eating and don't savor the experience. She guided the class through an intentional eating of a Hershey's Kiss.
The participants were told to pay attention to how the silver wrapper felt, what sounds they heard as it was removed, how the chocolate smelled and how it tasted as it sat on their tongues.
Emma Westover, 10, got the point.
"You have to eat slow and enjoy it," she said of what she has learned about food.
Joining Emma Westover in the BodyWorks class were her mother, Marcia Westover; sister, Katerina Westover; and brother, Corbin Westover.
Marcia Westover, 36, said she exercises a lot but doesn't eat as well as she should.
"I reward with food and I want to stop doing that," said Marcia, who lives in Inwood, W.Va.
Katerina, 12, said she has learned about reading the labels on foods and setting goals. She also has learned that she needs more fruits and vegetables than protein in her diet.
"You can't rush into it," Katerina said of making healthy changes.
Corbin, also 12, said he learned that he doesn't have to eat as much as he thought to feel satisfied.
"It's so neat doing it with them," Marcia said of the class.
Get with the program
A BodyWorks session is under way now in the WVU Health Sciences Building on the City Hospital campus. Participants are not encouraged to enter the program after a series has started, but another course likely will be offered in the fall.
A session to educate trainers was held in late January in Martinsburg, and DeJarnett said she hopes by having more trainers in the region, the frequency of BodyWorks programs will increase, as well as the number of sites offering it. She said trainers need only be interested in taking on the role, though a background in health and/or fitness is helpful.
To learn more ...
For more information about BodyWorks programs:
- Dana DeJarnett, health promotion specialist for West Virginia University Hospitals-East: email@example.com
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health: www.womenshealth.gov/bodyworks