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College to Fight Obesity in the Community

 College to Fight Obesity in the Community

07/25/2011 

SUNY Cortland this fall will take control of a community program aimed at fighting childhood and teenage obesity.

The College’s Center for Obesity Research and Education (C.O.R.E.) is taking charge of the HealthyNow Cortland County Weight Loss and Healthy Living for Teens program, a group that uses SUNY Cortland students to teach healthy living habits to local kids.

The College will handle supervision of the program starting in the fall, said Philip Buckenmeyer, the director of C.O.R.E. and chair of the College’s Kinesiology Department.

“There’s a real partnership between the College and the community that meets the collective effort to make the community healthier,” he said.

The HealthyNow program, which started last September, offers 15-week sessions in the fall and winter and an eight-week session in the summer. During each session, two interns from SUNY Cortland lead physical activities and offer wellness advice to promote healthy lifestyles for teens with weight concerns.

Buckenmeyer said community partners play a vital role. The Golden Lotus Center for Well-Being offers yoga. The Cortland YMCA provides free 15-week memberships for teens and access to its pool. Central New York Mixed Martial Arts gives self-defense demonstrations. The list goes on.

“These partners are willing to put in time that they aren’t paid for,” Buckenmeyer said.

He also noted the HealthyNow effort provides unique service and research opportunities for SUNY Cortland students.

Valerie Tcimpidis, a fitness development major from Livingston Manor, N.Y., and Ashley Weaver, a community health major from Horseheads, N.Y., are finishing up their course work through summer internships with the program. They put in about 15 hours per week with 15 local kids in 5th through 10th grade.

Weaver said she is attempting to help program participants make a lifestyle change.

“If someone reaches out right now, (the participants) are more likely to grab a hold of healthy habits and carry them with them through the rest of their lives,” she said. “Then, hopefully, they hand them down to their children.”

Tcimpidis said she got involved with the initial HealthyNow session in September simply because she needed community service hours for a class. The commitment, however, soon turned into a worthwhile experience that was hard to walk away from.

“I got really attached to the kids and I wanted to be there for them,” she said.

Through it all, she realized that there was a difference between her active childhood and the more sedentary life of HealthyNow participants. Tcimpidis said she grew up playing outdoors. She has stressed an active lifestyle for the kids as a healthier alternative to sitting on the couch and consuming junk food.

The HealthyNow program started for the same general reason the C.O.R.E. program launched at SUNY Cortland in 2004: to help make the obesity situation better. Buckenmeyer and other faculty members sought to create a database that would track the weights of children across New York state.

“We wanted schools to be able to determine how overweight their kids were,” Buckenmeyer said. “Because nobody knew.”

The center won a Promising Inventor Award from SUNY Albany in its early years. Now, Buckenmeyer wants the HealthyNow teens to become a focus for the CORE.

He has submitted a grant proposal through the Cortland Community Foundation to help offset the costs of the program. Participants pay $30 for a 15-week session that meets every weekday for about two hours.

An affordable cost was imperative for ReBecca Canzano, the Cortland County public health educator and HealthyNow founder. When she originally researched fitness camps for her daughter, Canzano found a six-week program priced at $1,800.

With some help, she developed the HealthyNow program last summer and launched it in the fall. Eight teens saw modest weight loss the first time around. But the program’s effects were more evident in attitude changes.

“The teens reported getting much more out of the program, like improved self esteem and overall health,” Canzano said.

On a recent summer day, a group of girls in the program sat in a circle at the Cortland City Youth Bureau and collaborated on a hypothetical letter to first lady Michelle Obama. They wrote about their use of dance as a fitness activity and their upcoming service project to collect donations for back-to-school supplies. The program promotes community service as much as it stresses nutrition and exercise.

Buckenmeyer said he looks forward to seeing what HealthyNow can accomplish in the next year. Integration of the C.O.R.E. laboratory and testing room will be a start. Eventually, though, Buckenmeyer said he would like to see a weeklong fitness camp that operates like a standard sports camp.

“What’s been done so far is a small thing in the scope of what we can do,” he said.