Feature Article - September 2010
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Kids Get Active

After-School Programs to the Rescue

By Deborah L. Vence

After-School Fitness

Fitness programs offered after school also can be a great way for children to kick-start a healthier lifestyle.

Now considered to be the most cost-effective health and wellness program for children in the country, based on a recent study by Cornell University, CATCH—which stands for Coordinated Approach to Child Health—is an after-school recreation program for children in kindergarten through fifth grade. The CATCH program brings schools, families and communities together to teach children how to be healthy for a lifetime. Healthy behaviors are reinforced through a coordinated approach—in the classroom, in the cafeteria, in physical education, at home and after school.

"CATCH was funded by NIH back in the late '80s to be an intervention to reduce cardiovascular disease. The CDC wanted to see if there would be a school-based intervention," said Kathy Chichester, campaign manager for CATCH.

"That original school-based study turned into CATCH—a program that can change behaviors, and [the types of] meals served in schools. The after-school program was designed for after-school implementation in an after-school market. The after-school piece today consists of physical activity and a nutrition component," she said.

A 2003-2004 report about a pilot study of an after-school adaptation of the CATCH elementary school program called the CATCH Kids Club (CKC), evaluated 16 Texas after-school programs—eight in El Paso and eight in Austin. Evaluation involved direct observation of moderate to vigorous physical activity [MVPA] during play time, self-reported food intake and physical activity and focus group interviews with after-school program staff.

The results revealed that students responded well to physical activity and snack components and were less interested in the five-module education component. Routine staff training was a key variable in achieving proper implementation; the ideal would be a full day with repeated follow-up model teaching visits. The results of the physical education component suggest it is feasible, effective and ready for larger-scale evaluation or dissemination.

The physical activity component of the pilot study had four main objectives: involvement of students in at least 30 minutes of daily physical activity; involvement of students in MVPA for at least 40 percent of daily physical activity time; providing students with many opportunities to participate and practice skills in physical activities that could be carried over into other times of the day and maintained later in life; and, finally, providing students with a variety of enjoyable physical activities.

"There is evidence that is showing student behaviors can be changed about physical activity," Chichester said.

Pre- and post-testing has shown that kids are moving more and changing behaviors—since the CATCH program was implemented. There are take-home letters and activities to do with their family members in English and Spanish. This is the goal of the program—several of the lessons have family activities to take home after the program, Chichester added.

Meanwhile, a program that began in March 2009 at Stamford Hospital in Stamford, Conn., now will be partnered with the Stamford YMCA to help fight childhood obesity.

Dr. Madhu Mathur from Stamford Hospital created the program called Kids' Fitness and Nutrition Services, or Kids' FANS, which is geared toward giving children instruction on how to make healthy lifestyle choices and essentially battle childhood obesity. Through regular meetings with a pediatrician, nutritionist, exercise instructor and social worker, children are taught how to make healthier food and lifestyle choices.

"A certified trainer will be running fitness classes for the kids at the YMCA this year, and the hospital is providing a nutritionist to work with the kids in the public school system. After-school transportation is provided to the YMCA," said Tim Dudics, marketing and membership director for the Stamford Family YMCA.

The program with the YMCA, which will begin this fall, will enable children who are enrolled in Stamford Hospital's after-school wellness program to join the YMCA after their 12-week session with medical and fitness professionals at the Tully Health Center ends.