US fitness club caters to obese, overweight children

AFP photoAmid the laughter, chatter and perspiration, a group of 30 children are hard at work on stationary bicyles, rowing machines and jogging pads at a kids-only gym in this Washington suburb.

"My mom, my grandmother and my aunt tell me I'm too fat. That's why I come here and wear long T-shirts," says Toriano Parrish, a plump 12-year-old who has become a regular at Youth Visions, located the city of Upper Marlboro, in predominantly black Prince George's County in Maryland.

Parrish, who was pedaling furiously on a stationary bike, said he had lost several pounds (kilos) since joining the gym open to children ages five to 16 and has made it a ritual to exercise every day after school.

An estimated 18.8 percent of children between the ages of six 6 and 11 are too fat in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), many of them because of lack of exercise and bad eating habits.

By the age of five, some 14 percent of children are already overweight.

Obesity rates are also higher among Hispanic and black children, according to the CDC, with more than one in four black teenagers (25.4 percent) overweight.

Camryn Jenkins, who is seven years old and weighs 85 kilos (187 pounds), is gingerly jumping rope at Youth Visions.

"I come because it's fun," she says timidly before admitting with a smile that her weight also has something to do with it.

She said sports activities at school are not much fun especially since some of her classmates make fun of her weight.

Tonya Manago, a former paralegal, and her sister Keitha Howerton opened the gym last April when Manago noticed that her daughter was putting on weight.

Desha, nine, has since managed to lose 12 pounds (5.5 kilos) and now weighs 116 pounds (53 kilos), while her girlfriend Ravin, who is 10 and weighs 257 pounds (117 kilos) has reached star status at the gym by losing 22 pounds (10 kilograms).

"Kids today are not burning off the food they take," Manago, 32, said. "They can't go outside and play because it's not safe. At school, they are reducing physical education time and parents use fast food because they have no time.

"That's how we're creating obese kids."

The gym she and her sister opened is painted in cheerful vivid colors and is equipped with some 30 fitness machines especially tailored for children.

The club is open Monday through Friday from 4:00 to 8:00 pm and has an area for children to do their homework.

The workout begins with a 10-minute warm-up followed by circuit training on the various machines to the beat of music. There is also a basketball court, jump ropes and other activities.

Children who cannot do without television are allowed to watch a video while peddling on a stationary bike or balancing on a big rubber ball.

"We let them go at their own rhythm," said Howerton, 30. "They don't have to feel they are working at a gym."

She said a scale is available to children who wish to weigh themselves although no one is forced to do so.

Jayshree Kumar, who brings her three sons -- two of them obese -- to the gym three times a week, has nothing but praise for the way Youth Visions has affected her family.

"For so many years, I was so concerned about my children," she said. "I'm glad I found a place like this."

Her oldest son, who is nine and weighs 136 pounds (62 kilos), has already lost six pounds in one month.

source - AFP

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