'Proactive Kids' teaching families to make healthy choices

MELROSE PARK, Ill. (WLS) -- A growing number of children are struggling with weight issues and often parents need help getting them back on track.

A program called "Proactive Kids" is working to teach children and their families in west suburban Melrose Park how to make healthy changes.

Twelve-year-old Makyli Washington has long struggled with her weight, but now she is making strides.

"I know how to control my diet and I know how to do more exercise," she said.

Her mom says the lessons benefit the whole family.

"She's actually trying to teach her aunt and her cousins and her other grandma and everybody how to eat right," Laguina Washington said. "We watch labels. She even tells me sometimes, 'Momma, you know you don't need those chips.'"

That's the goal at Proactive Kids, a free eight-week program for children who are overweight. It's mostly funded by hospitals and sets out get the whole family to make changes.

"We found that if the parents get involved, the kid is much more likely to follow," said Steve Gray, Proactive Kids Foundation. "So on Fridays, they're encouraged to participate in the 40-minute workouts. They sit it on lifestyle and engage in the conversation with the kids."

Fitness is a major component. They introduce safe exercise techniques and work to improve athletic confidence. Proactive Kids operates in six locations, including here at Loyola's Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in Melrose Park.

"You have to learn a lot to have healthy weight management," said Dr. Garry Sigmann, Loyola Pediatric Weight Management. "It's not so easy to teach that in one office visit setting or one lecture. You really have to be involved in learning and being motivated, all the things that this program does."

In addition to physical activity, Proactive Kids offers lessons on nutrition, letting kids sample healthy foods and teach skills including portion sizes and label reading. They also work with students on social issues that may affect weight, like bullying and body image. Parents say it makes a difference.

"Her confidence is better because now she's made friends here, very important at her age," Washington said. "She knows how to eat. She's losing the weight and she feels much better."

The program is free and open to children ages 8 to 14 who have a body mass index at or above the 85th percentile. The next session starts on January 12.

For more information: www.proactivekids.org
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