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California City Solutions: Rialto Addresses Childhood Obesity with Fit4Kids Program

May 2, 2014
This story is part of an ongoing series featuring Helen Putnam Award entries. These entries are also now available on the League’s website as a resource for cities in a searchable database called California City Solutions. Rialto’s Healthy Rialto Fit4Kids program was submitted in 2013 for the Health and Wellness award category.
 
Childhood obesity is a major concern of healthcare professionals and local policy makers at all levels of government. As the alarming statistics associated with childhood obesity became more prevalent within the community, the city of Rialto decided in 2010 to develop a health program for kids called Healthy Rialto Fit4Kids, modeled after its Healthy Rialto program launched in 2008. Both programs promote community wellness through education, resources and activities.
 
The Fit4Kids program is for children ages seven to14 years old, teaching hands-on training in the areas of health, nutrition, and physical fitness. Parents of the programs participants are also provided with information on how they can best support their children in their endeavors to overcome obesity and its related physical and emotional problems.
 
Community Background
 
In San Bernardino County, which includes the city of Rialto, two out of three residents are considered overweight or obese. Seventy-one percent of school aged children do not meet the fitness standards and the access to healthy food is very limited, with six times as many unhealthy food establishments available as healthy establishments.
 
Obesity is causing a broad range of physical health problems in children that previously weren’t seen until adulthood, according to the American Heart Association. These include high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and elevated blood cholesterol levels. There are also psychological health effects: obese children are more prone to low self-esteem, negative body image and depression. Childhood obesity is now a growing health concern among parents in the United States, topping drug abuse and smoking.
 
Further impacting Rialto’s fight against childhood obesity is that rates of childhood obesity are higher in African American and Hispanic communities, where nearly 40 percent of the children are overweight or obese. These two groups represent almost 80 percent of Rialto’s population. Also compounding the issue for the city is the fact that low-income communities have higher than average rates of childhood obesity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Income data for Rialto shows that approximately 50 percent of its citizens fall in the low to moderate income category.
 
Budgeting for the Program
 
Rialto’s Recreation & Community Services Division also had to establish a funding source for the Fit4Kids program. The challenge was making the program affordable for Rialto’s citizens who predominantly fall in the low to moderate income category. Considering Rialto’s demographic make-up, it was determined that the program should be offered at no cost to the participants.
 
The solution came in the form of a federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), which was awarded to the Fit4Kids program for the fourth consecutive year. The CDBG program is a flexible program that provides communities with resources to address a wide range of unique community development needs. The city was also able to use the Rialto Racquet & Fitness Center as a location for the program, a multi-purpose fitness and aquatics facility that the recreation department owns and operates.
 
About the Program
 
The primary goal of the Fit4Kids program is to improve the health and well-being of its participants in the short term, and to instill health and fitness life skills into the children that they can carry-on into adulthood. The city advertises for the program in several ways including ads in the Recreation Brochure, flyers distributed through Rialto’s schools, local newspaper articles and a Fit4Kids information booth at many community events.
 
Parents can submit an application for the program and are approved or denied according to CDBG low to moderate income guidelines. There are four 12-week sessions offered throughout the year, with up to 80 children admitted into the program each session.
 
In the beginning weeks, participants initially go through an orientation and individual assessment to determine their fitness baseline in cardiovascular endurance, muscle strength, muscle endurance and flexibility. Over the next 10 weeks they participate in activity games such as fitness monopoly and cross-fit dodge ball; as well as regular exercise activities such as running, swimming, and racquet sports. The children and their parents additionally attend “Healthy Eating” seminars presented by the program’s certified nutritionist.
 
Each 12-week session culminates with an awards ceremony that parents can attend, where the children receive participation certificates and special achievement medals. During the final week, participants are re-assessed and provided with progress reports. Parents are given a survey after the completion of the program so that the city can learn how well the program met their expectations and determine areas of improvement.
 
As an extra benefit to the children in the community, the Fit4Kids’ staff partners with the Kiwanis Club and Rialto Fire Department to provide a Water Safety Day, where the kids learn drowning prevention techniques.
 
The immediate and long term health benefits of the program also have reduced school absences and health care costs as leaner and healthier children tend to have fewer doctors’ visits.
 
The Healthy Rialto Fit4Kids program has made significant progress on meeting its goal by addressing childhood obesity one child at a time. Children in the program have shown marked improvement in their physical, emotional and psychological well-being, as indicated by performance data and parent testimonials. That success, coupled with the newly learned life skills, is a boost to their self-confidence and gives the children the tools they will need to continue their improved quality of life into adulthood.


 
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