UNC Asheville Tackles Growing Problem of Obesity;
"GIFT" Program to Help Families Fight Fat and Get Fit Together
UNC Asheville is offering help in the fight against
“Getting into Fitness Together” (GIFT), a new seven-week program
designed to help families reach fitness goals creatively. The physical
fitness program for children ages 7 to 11 and their families features a
variety of activities, from relay races to “Muggle Quidditch,” designed
to promote the enjoyment of active movement.
A brainchild of UNC Asheville professor Melissa
Himelein, GIFT was made possible with funds from the Bremen
Professorship, a two-year, $8,000 fund that helps social science
professors implement a project unrelated to traditional teaching
activities. Himelein was inspired to create the fitness program by her
own experience as a health psychologist and mother.
“I have been amazed as a parent to see how hard it
is to encourage kids to be physically active,” said Himelein, the mother
of eight-year-old twins. “The indoors beckon so much more than the
outdoors do these days.”
GIFT sessions will take place on the UNC Asheville
campus from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays from March 13 to
April 26. Children’s activities are designed to foster a positive
attitude toward physical games and outdoor play. Parents will
simultaneously be involved in an individualized program of walking or
jogging, aerobic games and stretching. Each week, participants will also
be given a “homework” activity that all family members can participate
“If a child is overweight, there has to be a family
response,” said Himelein. “No child 12 or under is going to get
themselves out to exercise or eat nutritious meals. A family has to
approach it as a family if things are going to change.”
The program pairs each family with a UNC Asheville
student who will work one-on-one with family members. Students range
from athletes to future elementary school teachers and all have an
interest in health promotion. With an emphasis on psychological
well-being, the program is intended to foster a positive attitude
towards personal wellness and health.
“We’ll use psychology in terms of working with
people in sensitive, helpful ways,” Himelein said. “There’s a pretty
strong relationship between mood and aerobic activity. We will put a
premium on activities being fun and noncompetitive, keeping people
happy, and getting them active.”
Childhood obesity is on the rise nationwide and is
a particular problem in Western North Carolina. In Buncombe County, 20.8
percent of children 2 to 19 are classified as overweight, some four
percent above state average, according to data collected at local health
departments in 2003. Nationwide, 16 percent of children are overweight,
more than double the amount 20 years ago. For the first time in history,
statistics show that children today are not expected to live longer than
their parents due to the growing problem of childhood obesity.
Participating in UNC Asheville’s GIFT program is
one active step in the right direction. Families struggling with weight
issues or that want to become fitter may register for the program.
Children cannot participate unless at least one parent is involved. Free
childcare for children too young to participate will be provided.
Registration is $35. As an incentive, the registration fee will be fully
refunded to those who complete the program.
information or to register, call Melissa Himelein, UNC Asheville
psychology professor, at 828/251-6834.
- Dr. Melissa Himelein, UNC Asheville Professor of Psychology,
- Jill Yarnall, UNC Asheville Public Information Assistant Director,