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Health Aware: ProActive Kids helps youth with weight issues

Isabel Olvera (left), 9, with her mother Karla and sister Maggie,14, at the Edward Health & Fitness Center in Woodridge where they took part in the ProActive Kids program that teaches kids healthy food choices and fun ways to stay active.  |  Submitted
Isabel Olvera (left), 9, with her mother Karla and sister Maggie,14, at the Edward Health & Fitness Center in Woodridge where they took part in the ProActive Kids program that teaches kids healthy food choices and fun ways to stay active. | Submitted

Parents hoping to help their child achieve a healthy weight need look no further than the innovative, free ProActive Kids program. The nonprofit ProActive Kids organization offers the program in partnership with Edward Hospital and several other area hospitals, according to PAK Executive Director Nicki Klinkhamer.

The eight-week session is for kids 8 to 14 with a body mass index* (BMI) in at least the 85th percentile. A spring program begins April 7 at the Edward Health & Fitness Center in Woodridge.

PAK runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, with Friday sessions open to parents. Participants learn healthy food choices and fun ways to stay active. A lifestyle coaching component, led by a behavioral health specialist, focuses on communication skills and personal struggles, such as body image and dealing with bullies.

Kids also learn how to approach food in a healthy way, and to ask for what they need to make that happen.

“She asks me to buy certain fruits and vegetables, and she reads food labels,” says Karla Olvera, of Bolingbrook, about her daughter, 9-year-old Isabel, a PAK graduate. “She looked at some applesauce I bought and said, ‘Mom, this is the wrong kind, it has too much sugar.’”

Isabel also asked for her family’s help in removing what she saw as an obstacle.

“She asked if we could limit her access to the kitchen outside of mealtimes,” Karla says. “Instead, she asks for snacks, and reassures me that it’s OK to say ‘no.’ So now if she asks for something like bacon on her sandwich, I just say ‘no.’”

Shannon Heckman, of Plainfield, also looked to PAK for her daughter, 10-year-old Annalee.

“We wanted her to learn to eat for energy and health,” Shannon says.

Annalee is enrolled in a PAK session in Woodridge that began in January.

“I feel very healthy and energized,” she says. “They (PAK staff) push you, but it’s a good push, not a mean push.”

Both Shannon and Annalee’s dad, Rick, have been involved in PAK.

“As divorced parents, we’ve found it’s helped us be consistent in how we approach food with Annalee,” Shannon says. “We have what we call ‘go-foods’ that we stock up on, because Annalee really likes them, and they’re very good for her. Some other foods we might make available only occasionally.”

Each PAK session includes a 45-minute activity workout with a professional trainer, with an emphasis on increasing muscle and decreasing fat. The average PAK graduate loses 2.44 percent of their body fat. There’s also a nutrition segment, often led by a hospital-based dietitian, covering such topics as eating out in a healthy way and portion sizes.

Both Annalee and Isabel have gotten physically stronger through the PAK experience and achieved a healthier proportion of muscle to fat. Annalee credits her PAK experience with her recent performance at a school fundraiser where donations were based on completed laps around the gym. She ran all 35 laps.

“I couldn’t have done that before (PAK),” she says.

“This program has given Isabel the foundation for being healthy for the rest of her life,” her mom adds.

To enroll in the session that begins April 7 in Woodridge or enroll in another PAK session, call 630-681-1558 or visit www.proactivekids.org.

*BMI — the number calculated from a child’s height and weight that helps screen for potential health problems.

Health Aware is a weekly column courtesy of Edward Hospital

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