UNTHSC and Cook Children’s Northside Neighborhood Clinic foster FitTeens

Their pedometers continue to count their steps as they bound into the room at Cook Children’s Northside Neighborhood Clinic, followed by proud parents.

They are participants in FitTeens, a motivational and family-based weight management program for kids ages 9 to 15 – led primarily by UNT Health Science Center students.

One teenager proudly shows her pedometer. "I walked 3,246 steps this week!" she exclaimed. "I could have walked more, but I was sick for two days."

She receives $10 for returning her pedometer and starts setting goals on a special educational website.

FitTeens is designed to teach weight management skills in a compact, eight-week program with a strong online component. The special website developed includes educational games and social networking support.

The program is a collaboration of Heather Kitzman-Ulrich, PhD, Assistant Professor, UNTHSC School of Public Health Behavioral and Community Health Department, and Cook Children’s Health Care System.

Two to four student volunteers from the School of Public Health and the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine facilitate the sessions using curriculum developed by Kitzman-Ulrich.

"The overall goal of FIT is to provide health promotion to high-need families in a cost-effective and sustainable way in their own community, which increases their retention as well as our ability to reach these families," said Kitzman-Ulrich.

Kitzman-Ulrich’s project co-leader is Don Wilson, MD, Pediatric Endocrinologist at Cook Children’s Medical Center.

"I have been interested in the growing problem of high cholesterol in children for a long time, and I realized that we need to jump in there and start early," Wilson said. "But I needed help with the outreach pieces."

Kitzman-Ulrich confirmed the program needed to reach the children and their families where they live.

"Lower income families often struggle with transportation, multiple jobs and child-care, and they have difficulty traveling to participate in programs that are of long duration," she said. "By creating a short program and delivering it in the community – we are better able to reach the most high-need families."

Wilson pointed out using UNTHSC students as facilitators makes this a win-win program for all.

"Students bring their knowledge and enthusiasm – and they find out what it’s really like in the real world," he said. "These are bright young people, and they make this model sustainable with each class passing their legacy to the next class."

Said student Irwin Mendoza, School of Public Health Epidemiology student: "I really enjoyed the ability to work intimately with the families. It made it easier to get to know them individually, which really helps the program. And the kids have really enjoyed the program. It’s helped them make healthier food choices and increase their level of physical activity."

Heinz Schwarzkopf (TCOM ’16) added: "The program brings the children who are at risk of living unhealthy lives to students who care about them. In the little time I had with one child I could see the wonder in his eyes."

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