Archived Story

We Can initiative helps families fight obesity

Published 6:00am Saturday, December 26, 2009

Kathy Tidey of Berrien Center and her children Jamie, 9; Jenna, 13; and Jamie, 9, eat healthy snacks that they learned to make in the We Can! Healthy Berrien six-week health class at the Niles-Buchanan YMCA.
Kathy Tidey of Berrien Center and her children Jamie, 9; Jenna, 13; and Jamie, 9, eat healthy snacks that they learned to make in the We Can! Healthy Berrien six-week health class at the Niles-Buchanan YMCA.

By AARON MUELLER
Niles Daily Star

According to Pam Kurtz, a Lakeland Health Care registered dietician, it’s an “epidemic.”
Two out of three adults in Berrien County are obese or overweight, according to the most recent numbers from Berrien County Health Department.

But Kurtz and other health-minded individuals in the community are fighting back.
In June 2008, the We Can! Healthy Berrien initiative was launched to help turn those statistics around.

We Can!, which stands for “ways to enhance children’s activity and nutrition,” is a National Institute of Health initiative that is gaining popularity across the country. Berrien was one of the first counties in the nation to start the program.

The program offers periodic free six-week classes for families taught by Andrews University nutrition grad students about healthy food choices, exercise and decreasing time in front of the television and computer.

“It actually started as a way to decrease childhood obesity,” said Kurtz, the co-chairwoman of We Can! Healthy Berrien. “We felt like it was important involving parents and kids and teaching them about nutrition in fun ways and involve them in corporate exercise.”

The classes take place in Berrien Springs, St. Joseph and at the Niles-Buchanan YMCA.
Kathy Tidey of Berrien Center and her three children – Jenna, 13; Ryan, 11; and Jamie, 9 – took part in a recent series of classes at the Niles-Buchanan YMCA.

The children were taught about making healthy food choices through the “go, slow, whoa” method. “Go foods” are healthy foods that should be eaten regularly, “slow foods” should be consumed in moderation and “whoa foods” are to be eaten “once in a blue moon,” according to Kurtz.

“The kids loved it,” Tidey said. “And they learned a lot. We’ll be at the store and they’ll say that’s a ‘go food’ or that’s a ‘whoa food.’ They’re making better choices when eating out too.”
Tidey also likes how the program brings parents and children together.

“It’s a great way to get out and do something with your kids,” she said. “It’s stepping stones to eating better foods and making good choices as a family.”

Jenna said she had a great time with her family and group of friends during the class.
“I liked eating all the food and seeing them explain it and doing the physical activities,” she said. “I still run and stuff and try to eat better, not so much junk food.”

A Web site, www.wecanhealthyberrien.net, has also been launched with wellness information, like health tips, maps of area walking trails, healthy recipes and a calendar of upcoming We Can! events.

The next six-week program takes place Jan. 31 through March 7 at the Niles-Buchanan YMCA on Sundays from 1 to 2:30 p.m.

Kurtz is hoping for new partnerships with organizations, like churches or schools, to run classes more classes. Organizations or individuals interested in participating can contact Pam Kurtz at (269) 556-7171.

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