December 26, 2012


SUNY students help children live healthier


Stephen Yang/contributing photographer
SUNY Cortland student Ed TenEyck leads children through exercises as part of the Healthy Now Cortland County program, which works with overweight children.

Staff Reporter

Dr. Mohammed Djafari shakes his head at what children eat — not at how much they eat but what it is made of.
The Cortland pediatrician and SUNY Cortland faculty and students are hoping to teach more children in grades five through 10 to eat better and exercise more, to fight obesity, this coming spring semester.
Healthy Now Cortland County, the program coordinated by the college, has a team of kinesiology students who work every semester with overweight children, with the help of community groups and places that promote fitness.
Six children, mostly from the Cortland city school district, took part in a variety of ways to exercise their bodies, from using the Wii video game system to spinning and yoga, to swimming and just plain outdoor games.
The program is $30 per semester, compared to what Djafari said is thousands of dollars for a professional obesity clinic’s program.
“It’s a change of lifestyle and it’s really a family project,” said Djafari, who refers children to the Healthy Now program. He thinks the program’s goals are urgent, since obesity among American children has tripled in the past 30 years into what the medical community considers an epidemic.
Djafari applauds the new lunch guidelines for schools, introduced by the federal and state governments in the past couple of years. He thinks the requirements for less fat and more fruits, vegetables and whole grains will pay off in years ahead.
“It’s planting seeds,” he said. “It’s a culture thing. The food they eat is dense. For example, a doughnut and drink is 1,500 calories. That’s all you need, yet you might still be hungry.”
And he hopes to have more children in the program, with the help of his fellow pediatricians.
“The help kids are getting from this program would cost thousands of dollars if a family sought professional help from a clinic,” Djafari said.
Healthy Now takes place from 4 to 5:30 p.m. on school days. There is a summer program as well. Philip Buckenmeyer, the kinesiology department’s chair, coordinates the program along with physical education professor Stephen Yang. He said the children in Healthy Now have access to a range of exercise options.
At SUNY Cortland’s Professional Studies Building, college students lead the children through Wii exercises, play games and show them racquetball, tennis, spinning, zumba and disc golf.
Buckenmeyer and Yang said the SUNY Cortland students — a mix of graduate and undergraduate — benefit from the chance to work with young people.
Kinesiology is a field that covers athletic training, sports psychology, coaching and exercise science. Healthy Now offers kinesiology students the chance for academic credit or a taste of professional experience.
The program is coordinated through the college’s Center for Obesity Research and Education.
Ed TenEyck, an undergraduate who led the Friday sessions, said the children were motivated to exercise if they liked the activity. He said he mixed the activities so they would not be forced to do one that they did not like for 30 or 45 minutes. A 32-year-old who works as a personal trainer in Syracuse, TenEyck said he has found that children can be taught to change their eating and exercise habits more readily than their parents can.
The Healthy Now program began in 2010 with Cortland County’s health education program and its director, Rebecca Canzano. She enlisted the help of Cortland Area Communities That Care, Seven Valleys Health Coalition, YWCA, YMCA, Cornell Cooperative Extension and SUNY Cortland.


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