LUMBERTON — Prescription for Fitness is a perfect name for the class that Jonathan Rivera heads up through the Lumberton Children’s Clinic.
Their legs dangling from pink and yellow chairs, the seven children who attended an information session on Monday night were all there at the suggestion of a doctor.
As Rivera, the fitness coach at the Lumberton Children’s Clinic, asks for a show of hands from everyone who enjoys soft drinks, arms are raised.
Rivera and dietitian Dian Zepaltas want to change bad habits at an early age, prescribing fitness in the place of fizzy drinks, and teaching that physical activity is fun.
The free fitness class is held on Saturdays from 9 to 11 a.m. in the gymnasium at Lumberton High School and is available to anyone 14 years old and under, doctor’s note or not. It disguises exercise in games like tug-of-war and relay races, and provides information on nutritious foods and healthy choices.
“Basically,” Rivera said, “we want to educate youth and family about physical activity, healthy eating, maintaining a good diet and a good weight.”
According to the NC Nutrition and Physical Activity Surveillance System, 42 percent of children ages 2 to 18 in Robeson County were either overweight or obese in 2010. North Carolina is ranked the fifth worst in the country for childhood obesity.
The program addresses everyday concerns, like how to provide a nutritious meal on a dime, as well as easy and healthy recipes for snacks. As Rivera continues the presentation, Zepaltas makes healthy snacks — crackers with bits of kiwi, cheddar cheese and strawberries.
Darlene Pittman, who accompanied her granddaughter Lauren Mobley to the session, said that adults get as much out of it as the kids.
“You all need to listen to Jonathan,” she said. “He knows what he’s talking about.”
Pittman started bringing her granddaughter to the program at the suggestion of her doctor and has seen measurable results.
“My granddaughter had a stomach problem and the medicine that they put her on made her gain weight,” Pittman said. “We joined the program and everything came down on the chart, her body mass index, everything was good.”
Lauren is part of the group of children referred by their providers and invited by the Children’s Clinic to participate in the program. Those children will check in weekly with their doctors to monitor their progress. Regular checkups with the doctor is not required for casual participants in the program.
Prescription for Fitness is a potential lifesaver: Four of the top 10 causes of death in the U.S. are related to obesity — coronary heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and cancer.
Lauren, a bit timid, said one of the most important things she learned was how to eat healthy.
“At home, her favorite snack is a bagel,” Pittman said. “She makes it herself and sometimes she’ll put cream cheese and fresh fruit on it.”
Zepaltas gets the youths to measure in spoon fulls the amount of sugar that lurks in their favorite drinks.
“This is an opportunity for parents to educate themselves and their children, and to learn how to read labels,” Zepaltas said.
To Rivera, the main goal is to get children and parents more active — in life and in their decision-making.
“Don’t let your kids sit around in front of the TV,” Rivera said. “Take them with you to the grocery store, let them get out and be active in helping pick out the food.”