Kearney family gets healthy together.
By Katy Healey
WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER
The family that exercises together thrives together. Jen McBride knows firsthand.
She, her husband and two of her kids enrolled in Building Healthy Families, a 12-week program that targets childhood obesity by involving mom, dad and siblings, too.
The McBrides, of Kearney, and 11 other families attended weekly meetings to set reachable goals with a behavioral psychologist, learn about proper nutrition and exercise together.
The program is successful because it's a group effort, according to Kate Heelan, program co-director at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
"We don't have part of the family trying to change ... and part of the family maintaining their sedentary lifestyle," she said.
Building Healthy Families coordinates with Kearney Public School officials - who issue health report cards in addition to academic ones - to identify 6- to 11-year-olds at unhealthy weights. Parents with kids whose BMIs are in the red zone as opposed to green or yellow are encouraged to contact the program coordinator. McBride's daughter's "red" report prompted them to enroll.
"My husband said, 'If this was her academic report card, we would bend over backward to help her,'" she said. "That was an eye-opener."
Before the program, McBride said her family was not entirely inactive, but working out wasn't a priority. Building Healthy Families helped them discover ways to exercise as a family without it feeling like a chore. Instead of hopping on a treadmill or lifting weights, for example, they play capture the flag, basketball or ride their bikes.
Nutrition experts also visited with families. They taught parents and kids how to make healthy choices at the grocery store and restaurants. It's called the stoplight diet, Heelan said, but it's really a lifestyle change.
Fruits and veggies are considered green-light foods, and you can eat as much as you want. Yellow-light foods, such as white pasta, are OK in moderation. Red-light foods, such as hot dogs and ice cream, should be limited. Heelan said families should strive to eat only one or two servings of red-light foods per day.
Program coordinators recorded each person's height, weight and body composition at the beginning and end of the 12-week program. Those whose BMI's were high enough also received blood work. Everyone was tested again at six months and the one-year mark.
The McBrides dropped more than 80 combined pounds in six months. McBride's husband, Mark, no longer needs his blood pressure medication, a $100 monthly savings. And her 10-year-old daughter's body mass index is not "in the red."
McBride said adjusting her family's eating habits have made the biggest difference. "We had never taken the time to learn about nutrition," she said. "And I don't know where I would have started on my own."
Now, the entire family knows to replace white carbs with whole grains, order mustard instead of mayonnaise and skip the cheese. It's easy, she said, and "it makes a huge difference in the amount of calories and the amount of fat grams."
It's routine for the entire family to eat well and exercise, McBride said.
Building Healthy Families has hosted five sessions to date. Using numbers from the first four sessions, families have met more than 70 percent of their goals, according to Heelan. The results are easy to maintain because "we keep it so basic," she said.
The next sesssion will begin in February in Kearney and Holdredge. Contact Heelan at 308-865-8336 for more information or visit unk.edu.
Alegent Health sponsors a similar program in Omaha and Council Bluffs called Healthy Families. For more information, contact Audra Losey at 402-444-1779 or Emma Frost-Briley at 402-690-4063 .