Hunting Park: Family Fit Program Helps Reduce Obesity Through Education and Fitness

Young children and their guardians watched as a big blue, red and white volleyball went back and forth over a volleyball net which signified the beginning of another family fit class at the Esperanza Center on 4417 N. 6th St. in Hunting Park.

The children and their parents smiled as they began the 90 minute session that started with fitness and then transitioned to nutrition education.

The Esperanza Center’s family fit program was started last year after receiving a two-year grant from AETNA. The program promotes a healthy lifestyle in the Hunting Park community and beyond by emphasizing exercise and healthy eating habits through education.

“Our program goals are not scientific,” said Debra Ortiz-Vasquez, the assistant director of community health and wellness and the director of the family fit program. “We are not doing body mass indexes. We are not worrying about weight and stuff of that nature. I think for us we realize that in this community we need safe spaces and I think the Esperanza Center is a safe space for families.”

The Esperanza Center and the family fit program are valuable assets to the Latino community of Hunting Park. In Spanish, esperanza means hope and the family fit program, as well as the Esperanza Center, offers optimism for its patients and their health.

According to a study done in 2014 by the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 36.5 percent of United States adults are obese. The study also found that 17 percent of youth in the United States were obese.

Ortiz-Vasquez said education is such a huge part in getting the members of the program to understand what they are doing to their bodies and how it affects their health.

“We will do nutrition lessons and inform them on the types of foods they should stay away from,” said Ortiz-Vasquez. “We also look at nutrition labels to help them understand the types of ingredients in their foods. Helping families realize that you don’t have to pay a lot of money to go to a fancy fitness place but you can learn to live a healthy life through a step by step plan. I think we model that pretty well.”

The CDC also did a 2013-2015 study using prevalence maps of “Self–Reported Obesity Among U.S. Adults by Race/Ethnicity, State and Territory.” Pennsylvania was among nine other states with greater than 35 percent of its Hispanic population being overweight.

The other states were Idaho, Arizona, Texas, West Virginia, North Dakota, Kansas, Arkansas, Illinois and Michigan. Educating the adults about nutrition and fitness in an attempt to develop a more healthy lifestyle is valuable for the children because the kids will most likely follow the example set by their parents.

In 2011, 13.5 percent of 10 to 17-year-old children in Pennsylvania were obese. That percentage was the 13th lowest percentage in the United States.

“We find that working with the parents is more helpful,” said Ortiz-Vasquez. “They are the ones that are cooking and getting groceries, so we can hook them into understanding what they are eating and understanding nutrition labels. We found that to be the best way to get the kids involved.”

In 2000, The State of Obesity, a project from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation,  reported 20.3 percent of the adult population in Pennsylvania was obese. Just seven years later, that number rose to 25.7 percent and in 2015, it rose to 30 percent, a 10 percent increase during the last 15 years.

Ted Voboril, the development director at the Esperanza Center, said getting entire families to participate together can help get the message across about ways to improve your lifestyle through some simple steps.

“Until the family fit program came into being, we didn’t have a program that allowed a whole family to participate in together,” said Voboril. “There was a class last year with a family that had six kids that did this together and they were able to have great takeaways from doing something together as well as interacting with other families. We try to have a lot of variety in the program that allows the members to be resourceful and help them promote a healthy lifestyle.”

Raquel Montañez and her two daughters participated in the most recent six-week family fit program. She said she is glad her family joined and because of the program they are on their way to living a healthier life.

“The family fit program unites my family and makes us work together,” said Montañez. “At first, my girls weren’t sure if they were going to fit in with all of the participants but I said we had to give it a try. Now they tell me on each Monday and Thursday that we have to go to the Esperanza Center for the family fit program. The program kept us motivated to do something every day.”

-Text, images and video by Dalton Balthaser.

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