MERRILLVILLE | According to a 2011 Kaiser Family Foundation study, 32 percent of Indiana children ages 10 to 17 are considered overweight or obese.
In response, a Michigan City minister and fitness expert said the key is to take a holistic approach to creating a healthful, fitness-oriented environment for children's health dealing with the mind, body and spirit.
Ronald Gaston, the founder of Temple Total Fitness in Michigan City, and a nationally certified Ignite Fitness instructor, was the guest speaker at a forum Tuesday sponsored by the Indiana Youth Institute.
The forum, held at the Geminus Corp. in Merrillville, was part of the IYI Youth Workers Cafe program. It is designed to bring together local youth workers to build relationships and inspire collaborations to benefit children.
Citing statistics, Gaston said one in three children are overweight. He said obesity causes health problems including a shorter life expectancy, and it sets the stage for heart attack, diabetes and other health issues.
He said weight gain among children often occurs due to an increase in sedentary activities such as watching television, playing video games and surfing the Internet. Gaston said experts also say poor food choices add to the increase in childhood obesity.
He said his program works with parents as well as children to teach them about how to buy food and create good eating habits.
"You have to engage children before you can teach them," Gaston told youth workers.
"I've always been involved in fitness. I'm a former football player and basketball player, but it wasn't until I was 30 that I submitted (to God)," he said.
"I'm trying to get to students before they get into trouble," Gaston said. "Michigan City has five correctional facilities. We're trying to come up with a new protocol to keep children out of the juvenile system and into the gym."
Gaston, who is passionate about his goal to help young people recast their vision of success, recently started a young men's mentoring project called Inception. It is geared to youths ages 8 to 19. He uses the fitness and nutrition protocol as a teaching anchor to assist young people.