Wellness camp gives community kids tools to make wholesome lifestyle choices

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Photo LLUMC: Operation Fit campers take a break from pickleball to pose for a group photo.
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Loma Linda University Health last week concluded its 12th annual Operation Fit, a series of week-long wellness camps for Inland Empire children and their families to learn how to live healthier lives through sensible food choices and physical activity.

This summer, 75 kids, ages 9 to 15, participated in each of the three Operation Fit camps held June 24 through July 19 at Loma Linda University Health. Camps were led and staffed by Loma Linda University School of Medicine and School of Public Health medical students, pediatric residents, and dietetic students.

Through dynamic, interactive educational activities, campers learn how portion control, read food labels and incorporate more fruits and vegetables in their diet. Kids were also introduced to fun exercise games and physical activities.

Marti Baum, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at Loma Linda University School of Medicine, said camp participants are referred by SAC Health System pediatricians and family medicine physicians if the patient’s Body Mass Index (BMI) is over the 85th percentile, which means the child is considered overweight or obese.

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“Children with elevated BMIs often move into type 2 diabetes by the time they reach their 20’s,” Baum said. “A proactive approach is key to early prevention of this life-altering disease.”

Baum said San Bernardino County’s childhood obesity rate is as high as 52% in some cities, which is more than double the national rate of less than 20%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Obesity rates for children may increase 2% after each year of life if lifestyle changes are not made,” Baum said.

Parents of campers had the opportunity to learn about their own health during parent education night. Campers got hands-on cooking experience by preparing healthful meals for their parents. Families had the chance to sign up for an additional five weeks of health education at SAC Health System upon conclusion of the camp session.

“The Inland Empire region has many food deserts, vapid of fresh fruits and vegetables due to food insecurity, lack of grocery stores and access to wholesome food,” Baum said. “Healthy living is further complicated by lack of transportation and the fact that community members don’t feel safe walking in their neighborhood or playing at parks.”

A 13-year-old, 8th grade camper from San Bernardino said her favorite part of the camp was the exercise activities, like dodgeball and pickleball. She said she is looking forward to incorporating physical activity into her daily life.

Baum offers this simple advice to parents: “Be proactive. Make wholesome eating part of the conversation with children at restaurants, schools and churches. That will make it easier for them to develop long-term healthy habits.”

Operation Fit is sponsored in part by Inland Empire Health Plan (IEHP) and the San Bernardino Medical Society.

To learn more about our healthy living community programs, visit the Institute for Community Partnerships website or find children’s health resources on our children’s health webpage.

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