ProActive Kids: just what the doctor ordered for healthy, fit children

July 26, 2016 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health

If you're a parent who struggles to help your child achieve a healthy weight, there is hope. Just ask Plainfield resident Shelley Talsma.

Shelley was determined to help her 11-year-old son Preston maintain a healthy weight. She monitored what he ate and encouraged him to be active, but that didn't seem to be enough. Preston's doctor suggested she enroll him in ProActive Kids (PAK).

ProActive Kids is a free fitness and nutrition program for kids ages 8 to 14, whose weight is at the 85th percentile or higher. Shelley enrolled Preston in PAK for the winter 2015-16 session at Edward-Elmhurst Health & Fitness in Woodridge.

For three afternoons a week, the PAK coaches – a trainer, dietitian and clinical therapist – taught Preston fun ways to improve his health. He received lessons in smart eating and 45-minute workouts to build endurance, strength and flexibility.

But it's the third PAK component — lifestyle coaching — that sets the program apart, according to Nicki Klinkhamer, PAK executive director. This coaching focuses on communication and coping skills related to body image, bullies and other concerns.

"Preston doesn't open up easily, so the Lifestyle discussion about bottling up negative emotions was helpful," Shelley adds. "In one of the exercises I learned he hadn't been playing sports much because he was self-conscious about not keeping up – something that had never come up at home."

Follow-up surveys show promising results. According to Klinkhamer, 73 percent of surveyed parents from the winter session at Woodridge said they agreed that "my child seems to like who she/he is better." More than 80 percent agreed or strongly agreed that "My child is more confident in his/her abilities."

Shelley had similar sentiments about the program: "In week 7, I was getting calls from parents and my son's teacher, noticing the difference in Preston – how he looked physically . . . his confidence, making friends . . . volunteering, just incredible changes," she says.

Preston's physical changes included a 2.1 percent decrease in body fat, weight loss of almost 4 lbs. and a fat-free mass increase of just under a pound.

Dan Johnson, a trainer at EEHFC in Woodridge and PAK program coordinator at that site, says: "At first Preston wasn't totally on board with the exercise part of the program. But, eventually I saw him working harder and even smiling about it. And when we tried volleyball I could see he found it fun. It was great to see him becoming more motivated. And now he's taken up volleyball."

“ProActive Kids is about much more than just managing weight,” says Klinkhamer. “It's about encouraging a healthy lifestyle for the whole family. That's why family members are invited to join the Friday sessions where they can participate in the nutrition and lifestyle sessions and the workouts. And, twice a month parents-only sessions allow them to share ideas about which strategies are working for their families and which aren't."

The 8-week PAK program meets three afternoons a week, from 4-5:30 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays, and from 4-6 p.m. on Fridays. Online enrollment is available for sessions that take place throughout the year at several PAK sites in the west and near northwest Chicago suburbs. Since 2010, PAK has served more than 1,700 kids and their families.

Learn more about and register for the next session of ProActive Kids.

Learn more about Edward-Elmhurst Health & Fitness.

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