UNC Asheville is offering help in the fight
against childhood obesity with "Getting into Fitness Together"
(GIFT), a six-week program beginning March 18, designed to help
families reach fitness goals creatively. The physical activity
program for children ages 6 to 12 and their families features a
variety of creative events, from scavenger hunts to water games,
designed to promote the enjoyment of active movement.
Now in its third year, GIFT was created by UNC Asheville Psychology
Professor Melissa Himelein. This year, funding for the program comes
from the Constella Group, a global health services company with
headquarters in North Carolina.
Last year 10 families participated in the program. One of Himelein’s
former UNC Asheville students Jessie Phillips (class of '07)
recently completed follow-up interviews with GIFT "graduates" and
found that the program had a very positive impact on these families.
"Families were highly satisfied with the program," said Phillips.
Six months after the program ended, they maintained improvements in
three areas: greater frequency of vigorous physical activity,
increased intake of fruits and vegetables, and decreased intake of
fried and fast foods. Phillips will be presenting the results of her
research at the Southeastern Psychological Association Conference in
Charlotte on March 6-8.
One unique element of GIFT is the opportunity for every
participating family to be mentored by a college student.
"This added support was highly motivating to participants," Himelein
said. "Many children really bonded with their mentors and some
continued contact after the program ended."
Registration is now open for the 2008 program. GIFT sessions will
take place on the UNC Asheville campus from 4:45 to 5:45 p.m.
Tuesdays and Thursdays, from March 18 to April 24. Some sessions
will involve full-family activities, while others will offer
separate activities for adults, older youth, and younger children.
Adults will engage in walking, jogging, weight lifting or water
aerobics, while active physical games and outdoor play are planned
for the children. Each week, participants will also be given a
"homework" activity that all family members can participate in as
well as a motivational incentive such as a pedometer or water bottle
to stay with the program.
"If a child is overweight, there has to be a family response," said
Himelein. "Most children aren't going to get themselves out to
exercise or eat nutritious meals. A family has to approach the
problem together if things are going to change."
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, which is 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 ages 2 to 6 will be provided. Registration is $30, but
as an incentive, the registration fee will be fully refunded to
those who complete the program.
For more information or to register, call Melissa Himelein, UNC
Asheville professor of psychology, at 828/251-6834 or click on