Growing Strong Program Inspires Kids to Make Healthy Choices

By Romi Carrell Wittman –

When Dr. Jessica Schultz began referring 12-year old children to the cardiologist for elevated cholesterol levels, she knew she had to do something.

“I was so frustrated seeing so many overweight children, kids that were morbidly obese,” said the Tucson pediatrician. “I knew we had to help them. We had to do more than what we could offer in a 10-minute office visit.”

While there were some kid-focused nutrition and exercise programs available, working families often couldn’t attend them because of scheduling issues.

That’s how Grow 2B Fit was born.

“It started as a kids’ camp – a free monthly class for families, with a portion on nutrition and a portion on exercise,” Schultz said of the program, which began in the fall of 2009.

At the camps, families learn how to make better food choices and how to incorporate exercise into their day-to-day lives. The idea is to make the exercises simple enough for people to do at home, with little to no special equipment needed. The camp also provides kids with activity books targeted to a variety of age groups.

“Kids and parents that come get a pedometer,” Schultz added. “And we offer small prizes for the number of steps.’’ She said the program encourages making good choices by making it fun.

The camps eventually evolved into a full-fledged foundation, which received its 501(c)3 nonprofit status in 2010. Initial funding for the organization came from the community, including Tucson Medical Center. A grant from the American Academy of Pediatrics supported the formation of the Grow 2B Fit Childhood Obesity Coalition.

Grow 2B Fit still offers monthly Kidz Camps at Apollo Middle School, but now also boasts a robust, family-friendly website at www.grow2bfit.org. The site provides links to a multitude of websites offering recipes, activities and tips for incorporating healthy habits into day-to-day life.

The organization is in the process of developing a Fit Buddy program, a mentorship program matching volunteers with children to provide one-on-one teaching and support.

Grow 2B Fit is working to get the home economics kitchen at Apollo renovated so that it can be used to teach healthy cooking. “The kitchen is the same one that was built when the school was constructed. It’s about 40 years old and the school hasn’t been able to use it for the past 10 years,” Schultz said. Once the kitchen is remodeled, it will be used not only for home economics classes, but also to offer hands-on healthy cooking demonstrations at the monthly Kidz Camps.

Schultz said that as a nonprofit organization operating on a shoestring budget, the group is looking for volunteers to help teach nutrition and exercise classes at monthly camps. The organization also needs volunteers to help with support functions. Currently, Schultz and Dr. Shook Yap, also a pediatrician, are the only staff.

“We have a lot of plans,” Schultz said. “We are in need of volunteers and welcome any donations, including in-kind gifts like small sporting goods.”

More important, Schultz said, is getting the word out. “We want to let families know this is out there for them. There are a lot of resources that parents just don’t know about and we want to make it easy for them to find those resources.”

For tips on healthy eating and exercise, go to www.grow2bfit.org

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