Vanetta Keyes began her movement to fight childhood obesity as a concerned parent. Her daughter struggled with her weight, and Keyes became concerned when she learned about the serious side effects of obesity. â€śMy heart overflowed as I realized the health risks associated with her growing obesity,â€ť she recalls. â€śIt was evident that something had to be done by someone to preserve and to improve the quality of life for my childâ€¦ I decided that someone was me!â€ť
She developed the nonprofit CHOICES in 2002 to share her newfound knowledge of educating her family on the importance of health, nutrition, and physical activity with her local community. The child obesity epidemic has been well documented through various studies, news stories, and undeniable statistics. However, CHOICES strives to offer obese children real life solutions that are healthy, realistic and pave the way for better lifestyles.
CHOICES is an acronym for the â€śCenter Helping Obesity In Children End Successfully.â€ť What began as a grassroots campaign has turned into a multi-faceted program that helps children in the Metropolitan Atlantic area who are at-risk or clinically diagnosed as obese. Now celebrating its tenth year in operation, CHOICES prides itself on working with over 15,000 overweight children and their families in the Southeast through 6 unique programs.
â€śWe believe the C.H.O.I.C.E.S. model is one that can promote healthy living across our country especially in areas like ours where the obesity and rates of related diseases are soaringâ€ť says Keyes. Their intervention model promotes weight management and lifestyle changes through nutrition education, peer socialization, physical activity and community involvement. CHOICES provides a safe, supportive environment for overweight children with the involvement of their parents.
â€śThere is no singular approach,â€ť says Keyes. â€śObesity is a complex issue that deals with genetic, biological, behavioral, and cultural factors, but we believe that education early in life can break the rising obesity trend in our country.â€ť
She cites that The Center for Disease Control estimates that more than 9 million adolescents in this country are overweight or obese, a rate that is nearly 4 times the number 40 years ago. Keyes is committed to reversing the trend through various programs that CHOICES helm.
One of the programs, We Can!… Make Healthy Choices, is workshop series that will begin this summer that provides water aerobics classes to children between ages 8-13 while educating parents through a nationally accredited curriculum sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. The curriculum, titled Ways to Enhance Childrenâ€™s Activity and Nutrition, gives parents practical tips to create a more nutritional environment for their child and family.
Another great summer program is Camp CHOICES, a one-week day camp for overweight children between ages 10 and 15. “These camps provide hands-on nutrition classes, personalized fitness training and fun cooking demonstrations,” explains Keyes.
Dealing with obesity is an issue that is sensitive and unique to each individual. In this time of computers, video games, and cell phones, it is almost easy for children to fall into unhealthy patterns that lead towards obesity. Keyes says kids are often motivated to make a healthy change after witnessing health issues with their own family members. She also says some are subject to bullying and want to lose weight because of peer pressure, but are unaware of how to do so until coming to CHOICES.
Identifying and working with each childâ€™s unique needs and situation is something CHOICES takes very seriously. Sisters in the L.I.T.E. (Lifestyle Intervention Teaching Exercise) is a 12-week lifestyle series for young women ages 10-24. The â€śSistersâ€ť program provides self-esteem, nutrition and fitness classes to women while educating their mothers. The â€śSistersâ€ť program follows the â€śBodyWorks For Familiesâ€ť curriculum from the Office on Womenâ€™s Health.
In addition, CHOICES holds the Childrenâ€™s Nutrition Education & Physical Activity Expo annually, which is their signature event with indoor and outdoor nutrition exhibitions, free health screenings and cooking demonstrations. The expo is designed as a learning carnival that features special community partners like the Atlanta Public School, The Atlanta Braves and The Atlanta Hawks. The organization also takes their expertise on the road throughout the year through The Childrenâ€™s Expoâ€¦ On Wheels. The year-round program focuses on nutrition basics by participating in community health fairs and supporting after school programs.
Keyes understands that the quickest way to fight against obesity on the community level is through children. Once your educate them on healthier choices, they become advocates to the rest of their families. â€śWe have numerous participants who are not obese but join us at community events in an effort to educate themselves on nutrition and fitness habits,â€ť she says. â€śThere is always an opportunity to expand your knowledge and share that information with others in your family and across your community.â€ť
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