Shaping Healthy Bodies and Lives for the Young

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Two SUNY Cortland students help 11-year-old Abby Whelan, center, train in the HealthyNow Program. (Matt Porter)

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By day, Chelsea Norton is a SUNY graduate student in kinesiology. But come the end of the afternoon, she is a personal trainer to overweight teenagers working to improve their self-image.

“It’s good to see the kids come through and learn different things.  It’s also challenging to me because you have to come up with different activities that they’ll enjoy and that are also beneficial to them.”
(Chelsea Norton, 23, SUNY Cortland graduate student)

One out of five young adults in New York are obese. Even more are overweight. That makes Norton one important cog for SUNY Cortland’s Healthy Now program. It helps teach boys and girls about the importance of exercising and being healthy.

Healthy Now started a year ago after it’s founder could not find affordable options for local students to get healthy.  The cheapest was a six-week intensive camp for $1,800.

Healthy Now is a 15-week afterschool program that costs…$30.

Partners provide free services, including a membership to the YMCA, nutrition classes, even meditation and mental health services.

Dr. Phil Buckenmeyer of SUNY Cortland’s Center for Obesity Research and Education runs the program.

“If I can help them get into healthier habits, and get them to see what physical activity can do for them, and what nutritional awareness can do for them, then maybe they won’t take issues with being overweight into their later years or adult years.”
(Dr. Phil Buckenmeyer, SUNY Cortland Center for Obesity Research and Education)

That’s an important detail because more children are developing Type 2 diabetes. It’s a disease that used to only be found in adults.

“So if we can head those off early on, then we’re a lot better off in helping our youth and having them feel better as they become adults.”
(Dr. Phil Buckenmeyer, SUNY Cortland Center for Obesity Research and Education)

Doctors say lifestyle changes including diet and exercise are the most cost-effective way to stop the obesity epidemic and the illnesses that go along with it.

Health Now targets the body, and also the mind.

One pair of Cortland parents say Healthy Now has helped their daughter reach new heights — literally.

For the first time this spring, she scaled a rock wall.

“That’s always something she’s been terrified to even think of.   The fact that she’s doing that is really awesome.”
(parent Jennifer Whelan of Cortland)

Parents Jennifer and Tim Whelan say it’s all possible because of the mentors from SUNY Cortland.

Jennifer Whelan: “I think she more or less likes the time with the college students.” 
Tim Whelan:  “Yeah the one on one interaction.”
 Jennifer Whelan:  “She really likes that.”
(parents Jennifer and Tim Whelan of Cortland)

Talk to their 11-year-old daughter Abby, you’ll see she agrees.

“I just took it step by step.  I was up there, and they were down there giving me information like where to put my feet or where to reach my arm. And it just helped me out.”
(Abby Whelan, 11, of Cortland) 

Abby’s adventure with the rock wall shows the program’s focus on exercises that are both healthy and fun.

“I just never thought exercise could be this fun. I was never a big exerciser before I was in this program.”
(Abby Whelan, 11, of Cortland) 

Back to personal trainer, Chelsea Norton — she says the experience working with kids  has taught her a lot .

“Some of them have had a lot of challenges, health related and things like that — and so seeing them persevere and still come out with a good attitude and still be willing to come and enjoy it and just be exposed to the different activities they are.  It’s definitely been good to see.”
(Chelsea Norton, 23, SUNY Cortland graduate student)

On this day, Norton has taken her young students for a swim at the YMCA. Here, the students at Healthy Now are making waves in our country’s obesity crisis.

In Cortland, I’m Matt Porter, for DemocracyWise.

(Matt Porter is a graduate student in broadcast and digital journalism.)

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