UF Fun & Fit Families program aims to create lifelong healthy habits


Published: Saturday, May 25, 2013 at 6:40 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, May 25, 2013 at 6:40 p.m.

Tag. You're it.

"Flush tag," which will prompt a discussion about the importance of hydration and water, is just one of the games that a new weight management program will feature in June.

The University of Florida will offer the Fun & Fit Families program, geared toward the families of overweight children in Alachua County. It is a family-based lifestyle intervention that allows children and parents to collaborate in making healthy dietary and physical activity changes.

The program will emphasize nutritious snacks, like seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as fun ways to stay physically active through games.

Games are centered on healthy lifestyle topics. For example, "red light, green light" will focus on the importance of healthier foods, based on color.

The first program is free for families who qualify, and it is designed for 8- to 12-year-old children with body mass indexes greater than or equal to the 85th percentile for their age and sex, said Lauren Fischer, ARNP and program coordinator.

Fischer said that by the start of the program, she thinks 10 families will be enrolled. There are eight families currently enrolled.

"We decided to keep the groups small because our hope is that the families will bond and support each other through the process of changing their family's lifestyle," Fischer said.

The program will last 16 weeks. Families will meet weekly for eight weeks and then twice weekly for eight weeks at the Southwest Advocacy Group Family Resource Center at 807 SW 64th Terrace.

At these meetings, Dr. Janet Silverstein, principal investigator and UF professor of pediatric endocrinology, and David Janicke, a UF associate professor of clinical and health psychology, will measure the effectiveness of the program on children's heart disease risk factors, including dietary intake, physical activity and blood vessel stiffness.

The program will also have four participant assessment visits.

For each child, Silverstein will measure blood pressure, BMI, height and weight. She will also measure blood vessel stiffness using an ultrasound of an artery in his or her wrist.

"I don't know of any other program that does that," Silverstein said. "It's not routine care, but it's something that we think is important."

Silverstein wants to see if this program improves participants' blood vessel stiffness because an adult's blood vessel stiffness is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Ultimately, the goal of this program, which is a collaboration of three UF colleges — the College of Medicine, the College of Public Health and Health Professions, and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences — is for participants to maintain the learned lifestyle changes.

"Hopefully, these changes will be long-lasting enough that they really will persist throughout their entire lives," Silverstein said.

As part of the trend toward healthier living, the School Board of Alachua County has implemented a comprehensive wellness program.

Revised in January 2012, the wellness policy covers everything from fundraising to nutrition and physical education.

For some high-needs schools in the county, grants provide fruits and vegetables as snacks.

"We've been very aggressive for years to get all kids active and eating right," said Jackie Johnson, public information officer for the School Board. "The policy just sets up the framework. The real action happens at the school."

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