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Hearts N' Parks for Wholesome Hearts

September is America on the Move Month of Action

September is America on the Move Month of Action

By Isabel M. Estrada Portales

"Going to the park is fun," said Jimmy Wilson, 10, (not his real name) after a session of fresh air, limited walking, and some fun in the sun.

Jimmy had not been to the park so much during his life. At 363 pounds, he was been tutored at ground level, because he could not go up the stairs to join his peers at the 4th grade classroom. The park?

But that was then, more than 100 pounds ago. Now he enjoys the park and knows that this simple step could bring him back to good health and a beautiful life. This he owes to Tricia Collins, Wellness Programmer of the Arlington County, Virginia.

"I used to work as a nutritionist for the Department of Public Health in Washington, D.C.," says Collins. "One day a pediatrician contacted me and said that he needed my help with this 10 year old, extremely obese boy who was helpless so far, and was starting to have all kinds of health problems due to his weight. Essentially, it did not seem the boy would be able to make it without fast intervention."

Collins took the task on her hands. "I went to the school and asked the Principal if I could go there one hour before classes twice a week. The Principal and the parents agreed. I talked to him, we discussed serving sizes, and all that, but I asked him: 'what is it that you want to do?' And he said he wanted to be able to go to the park. So I said, I promise you that if you do what I tell you to do, before you know it, you'll be walking to the park."

However, that trip to the park took four months. By the end of the school year he was walking two miles, and, to Collins dismay, had only lost 12 pounds. "Then I had to change jobs, and lost track of the process. But two years later, I met the pediatrician in a festival and he told me: 'You know what happened?' I was scared he would say the boy had died, or something. But, not, this had a happy ending."

When Collins left, and the school year ended, Jimmy had fallen so in love with the park, and with his new ability to walk up and down the stairs, that he decided he would not let go of that. "He made his parents take him to the park every day, he motivated everyone around him, his father quit his drug addiction. Jimmy lost 163 pounds in two years!"

"For me," said Collins, "that's Hearts N' Parks."

Now Collins is the Wellness Programmer of Arlington County, Virginia, where she coordinates the Hearts N' Parks program.

Community Program to Tackle CVD Risk Factors in Children

The epidemic of obesity, and its companions: heart disease, diabetes and depression, are taking an increasing toll in children if statistics are any indication.

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, from the Center of Disease Control (CDC), of 2003-2004 shows that the prevalence of overweight in children ages 6-11 increased from 4.2 percent to 19 percent compared with data from 1963-65. The prevalence of overweight in adolescents ages 12-19 increased from 4.6 percent to 17 percent. Ethnic and racial minorities seem to be specially affected.

Hearts N' Parks is a national, community-based program supported by National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA). It aims to reduce the growing trend of obesity and the risk of coronary heart disease in the U.S. by encouraging Americans of all ages to aim for a healthy weight, follow a heart-healthy eating plan, and engage in regular physical activity.

"Here in Virginia, many people live at a mile or less from a park," says Collins. "The idea is to get people motivated, like Jimmy, to go to the parks, to live outside. That's why for me Hearts n' Parks is not a program, but a philosophy. There is much more to wellness than nutrition and physical activity."

Susan D. Sagusti, from NHLBI, explains that "through Hearts N' Parks, science-based information about nutrition, physical activity, and other important factors for lifestyle choices that can reduce one's risk of heart disease is taught as part of regular activities offered by park and recreation departments and other community-based agencies."

Hearts N' Parks was pilot tested in 1999 with more than 2,000 participants in 33 sites in North Carolina. Currently, there are more than 50 Hearts N' Parks Magnet Centers in 11 states.

In 2003, more than 3,700 people participated in Hearts N' Parks programs. Approximately 2,140 were children. "Overall, pre- and post-test scores indicated that participants significantly improved in all indicators of heart-healthy eating knowledge, self-reported attitude and behavior, and physical activity levels," explains Sagusti.

Those numbers, however, testify of the still pale participation on this kind of programs: 3,700 people in 11 states. "Consistency is the most important factor on any health and wellness intervention or program," says Collins. "That's why you don't see many results."

Action Steps

  • Help your child participate in a variety of activities Exit Disclaimer that are right for his or her age.
  • Establish a regular schedule for physical activity.
  • Incorporate activity into daily routines, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Embrace a healthier lifestyle yourself, so you'll be a positive role model for your family.
  • Keep it fun, so you can count on your child to come back for more.
  • Maintain a healthy diet.
  • Have regular family meals.
  • Serve a variety of healthy foods and snacks.
  • Be a role model by eating healthy yourself.
  • Avoid battles over food.
  • Involve kids in the process.


Child Health from OMHRC

Hearts N' Parks Exit Disclaimer

Key to Nutrition: a Diversified Portfolio

America on the Move Exit Disclaimer

Healthy Hearts for Kids Exit Disclaimer

National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES)

Content Last Modified: 10/18/2006 1:51:00 PM
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