As the clock ticks down, the two lines of kids are bunny-hopping and crab-crawling toward victory.
It’s a relay race between two teams of children in the Healthy Kids program at Johnston Health’s HealthQuest Fitness and Wellness Center in Smithfield. The person at the front of each line hops to a metal bar, jumps over and then crawls back.
It’s hard work, but by the sound of their laughter and cheers, the 10 or so kids don’t seem to mind.
“They’re having fun, and they don’t even realize how good it is for them,” Rachel Daughtry said as she watched granddaughters Shelby and Holly hop and crawl.
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“This is absolutely what they need,” she said.
Most of the children in the Healthy Kids program, which started last fall, are either overweight or have a family history of obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol. Many also come from low-income families, some of which receive scholarships from the Johnston Health Foundation.
In addition to 45-minute workouts three days a week, the 12-week program connects families with dieticians once a month.
Frankie Benavidez, the personal trainer who leads the Healthy Kids program at HealthQuest, said the nutrition aspect is perhaps the most important. That, he said, and educating the parents who provide food at home.
“It’s more affordable to eat the non-healthy foods,” Benavidez said. “But with the counseling we offer with the program, one of the things we stress is portion control.
“You can’t always pick what you can afford to eat, but you can always decide how much you can eat,” he continued.
Currently, the Healthy Kids program has about 18 participants who live throughout the county and range in age from 9 to 18.
The idea for the health education prgram came from Dr. Benjamin Atkeson, a cardiologist with North Carolina Heart and Vascular. Johnston Health says he’s since contributed $10,000 to the Healthy Kids Fund and has pledged $40,000 over the next four years.
Scholarships are based on financial need and health-risk factors. Parents whose children don’t qualify for scholarships can still sign up for the class. The fee is $200 for HealthQuest members or $250 for non-members.
On the days the Healthy Kids don’t meet, they have “homework,” which can include pushups, crunches, jumping jacks and bear crawls. Benavidez, the personal trainer, said the idea is to get the young people in a routine of daily exercise.
“The goal is to have the kids healthier leaving than they were coming in,” he said.
“One of the things I stress to the parents is that this isn’t a weight-loss program,” Benavidez added. “If the scale numbers are all you’re focused on, ultimately that leads to heartbreak.”
Benavidez said the children who have graduated from the Healthy Kids program thus far have increased their cardiovascular endurance.
“I tell them they have two hands, two legs, 10 fingers, 10 toes and one heart,” Benavidez said. “The one heart you have was made perfectly for you and especially for you, and you need to take care of it and make it last.”
Each 12-week program culminates in a graduation. Benavidez said he hopes the current Healthy Kids participants will join in a Johnston Health Champions 5k race in May. The race will raise money for the Healthy Kids fund.
For more information about the Healthy Kids program, call 919-938-7581 or go to the HealthQuest page on johnstonhealth.org. Anyone interested in donating to the Healthy Kids Fund should contact the Johnston Health Foundation at 919-938-7169.
Dunn: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104.