CHICAGO | Every Wednesday, kids of all ages from the Humboldt Park community gather after school at their local park field house for physical activity and nutrition education run by the Chicago Partnership for Health Promotion.
The Partnership is a part of University of Illinois’ Great Cities Neighborhoods Initiative. The goal is to improve nutritional habits throughout different communities in the city by providing educational classes.
“We come here for an hour once a week to talk to the kids about nutrition and how it works in the body," said Michael Wells, a certified nutrition peer educator. “We (also) try to get them to eat a balanced meal each and every day.”
The Chicago Park District’s goal for the class at Humboldt Park is to emphasize the importance of healthy eating, but also to make sure to include physical activities to give children a well-rounded experience.
Although the class is a part of a nutrition-driven program, it “is not supposed to be a lecture, it’s more of an active learning class,” says Raquel Maldonado, a fitness program specialist for the Park District. “They learn about the food groups, they learn about moderation and they use games to teach a lot of that.”
The curriculum includes exercise not just to keep the kids moving and healthy, but also to make sure they don’t get bored, according to Wells.
“You have to incorporate some kind of fun, because kids are sitting in the classroom all day at school and the last thing they want to do is come to the park and be taught another lesson.”
Recent studies showed obesity and diabetes as major health issues in the Humboldt Park neighborhood, according to the Park District. The park has since worked to provide the community with an abundance of resources to get fit and healthy.
“We work within the community to help try to get control on childhood obesity,” Wells said.
The Park District plans to work more closely with pediatricians, so that parents looking for nutrition or physical-fitness classes for their kids can receive a direct referral to the parks from their doctor, according to Maldonado
The Chicago Department of Public Health also lists obesity prevention as one of its key priorities for a healthy Chicago. The department is working with several organizations, including the Park District to establish wellness centers in high-risk areas of obesity throughout the city.
Many of the wellness classes are offered free to children and seniors. Adult programs usually require a small fee.