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Class aims to improve family health

By Katie Demeria

Families who want to get healthy together this New Year now have a free option through Winchester Medical Center's bariatric department.

Next Steps is a four-week program for children ages 7 to 12 and their parents. It is scheduled to take place every Tuesday in January.

The program will not only encourage families to get active together, but it will educate parents on how to recognize good nutrition.

Rick Northcraft, nurse practitioner with the medical center's bariatric department, created Next Steps this year.

"'Next' is an anagram, it stands for nutrition, esteem -- the 'X' is for exercise -- and teaching," Northcraft said. "It's a curriculum-based program in which we'll teach both the child and the parent how to develop a healthy lifestyle."

The project is based on the bariatric department's work with the City of Winchester's Parks and Recreation department over the summer, during which they attempted to educate and encourage kids to get active.

That work, though, only goes so far without the parent's involvement, Northcraft said.

"We've learned that, in order to make a difference, you have to get the parents involved," he said. "You can tell the kids that they need high protein and about how to eat carbs, but if mom and dad don't know, then it only does so much."

Because this is the first time the bariatric department will be offering Next Steps, Northcraft said he wants to start the class slowly with only 10 participating families.

He said he hopes that in the spring it will be offered again.

"Our long term goal is to include more age groups, not just ages 7 to 12, but adolescents as well," he said. "In fact, one of the big target groups that folks are worried about when it comes to obesity are preschoolers."

Next Steps is not designed to diagnose or treat obesity, Northcraft said. The point of the program is to, instead, encourage children to adopt all-around healthy habits, including everything from the right food choices to thinking well about themselves.

Staff from the medical center involved in Next Steps will include two dietitians and a behavioral health professional who will focus on imparting positive self-esteem onto the children.

"I think at that age, high self-esteem is so important to make sure that children have confidence in themselves," Northcraft said. "Good self-esteem can impact future success and whether or not someone tries to get healthier."

Northcraft said each class will begin with activity time involving both children and parents before the groups split up. Children will have physical education time, and parents will learn about healthy eating habits from professionals.

"We're going to hone in with the parents one-on-one and teach whatever the topic is that night," Northcraft said. "We'll cover things like how to read labels, plan meals and what to avoid in sugary drinks."

Parents will also participate in a lesson on boosting their kids' self-esteem.

Each class will conclude with parents and children reuniting and developing goals they can achieve at home.

Northcraft said this is the type of education he thinks many in the area need.

"In my work, and in talking to patients, it's really interesting to see how many folks really don't know what healthy food is, and don't know how to read a label, for example," he added. "This is a great program to get some of that basic nutritional education, and to help people make wiser choices as they shop and prepare meals for their kids."

Though the class is free, registration is required to encourage families to consistently attend every class. They are scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. at Body Renew Fitness at the Sportsplex in Winchester.

Those interested in participating can register by calling Winchester Medical Center's bariatric department at 540-536-0010.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com

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