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Washington County gets its youth moving with grants and a great idea

In its 2005 data summary of physical activity among Georgia’s youth, the Division of Public Health reported that too many children do not get enough regular physical activity. Only 68 percent of middle school students and 59 percent of high schools students reported being vigorously active, and only three in10 middle and high school students in Georgia attend daily physical education classes. Growing physical inactivity has resulted in increased obesity and a rising incidence of diabetes, which in turn results in greater health care costs.

Washington County Regional Medical Center, located in Sandersville, Ga., already knew that. What WCRMC needed was a way to reverse the growing trend toward childhood inactivity, and that answer came from Greg Rossidivito, a 2003 Community Health graduate of Georgia Southern University. With a little help from friends at the Bureau of Business Research and Economic Development at Georgia Southern, Rossidivito has developed a federally-funded physical fitness program that is getting Washington County kids on their feet and having fun.

‘In the beginning, I borrowed an idea from TV and created the ‘Survivor” Kids Camp for children ages 8-12,” said Rossidivito, who manages WCRMC’s fitness facility, Wellness Works. ‘The first year we concentrated on weight loss, and the program failed. The second year we focused on prevention of health problems, and it improved. This is the third year for the ‘Survivor” Kids Camp, and the participants are pumped.”

This year’s camp emphasizes fitness and nutrition. Students will be required to work as a team to meet fitness challenges, and part of their experience will be learning to make healthy snacks. At the end of the two-week camp, the ‘Survivors” will spend a day at Six Flags as a reward for their teamwork.

While ‘Survivor” Kids Camp works well, it covers only two weeks out of the year. Rossidivito approached Dr. Phyllis Isley, Director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Development (BBRED), to see if the state’s Intellectual Capital Partnership Program (ICAPP) funds managed by her organization would help create a program that would take place every week throughout the year. Part of BBRED’s mission is to assist small regional hospitals like WCRMC, so Isley agreed to assist. She also suggested adding taekwondo to the mix.

‘I suggested adding martial arts to Greg’s program,” said Isley, ‘because it is a comprehensive approach to exercise and includes benefits such as increased self-esteem, a positive body image, goal-setting, and reduced aggression. Another reason for selecting the curriculum used by the American Taekwondo Association (ATA) as a basis for this project is the potential for replication. ATA has a fully documented, performance-based standards for training and certification for all belt levels. It offers a written curriculum for students ages 3 and up.”

BBRED brought together a consortium of Washington County agencies to serve as a board of directors for the project. The consortium includes WCRMC; Ana Mishaan, a location pediatrician; Washington County Board of Education; Washington County Department of Health; Washington County Extension Service; Family Connections, Inc.; Washington County Recreation Department; Main Street, City of Sandersville; Washington County Community Health Care Center; and Georgia Southern University.

Taekwondo at Wellness Works opened its doors in July 2005 as a pilot study funded by ICAPP. The program, which enrolls school age students, their parents, and other adult role models showed positive results, so Rossivito and Isley began work on a proposal asking the U.S. Health Resources and Service Administration (HRSA) for help to keep it going. Their proposal, titled ‘The Washington County Multidisciplinary Martial Arts Fitness Project: A Response to Childhood Obesity,” was successful, and they were granted $375,000 to continue the program for three years. Funding began May 1 of this year and will continue to April 30, 2009.

‘At this point we have 53 participants,” said Rossidivito, ‘with more inquiring every day. Based on regular assessments, the children and adults in the program are seeing regular improvement in every physical and psychosocial category.”

Those who enroll in Taekwondo at Wellness Works begin with a physical and psycho-social examination that includes age-appropriate assessments, including diet and exercise knowledge and habits. Participants are periodically re-tested by graduate students in the College of Health and Human Sciences at Georgia Southern, and students will use the data to conduct ongoing research as part of their program of study. The Center for Rural Health and Research at Georgia Southern will be the evaluator for the overall project.

Washington County Regional Medical Center, a 116-bed hospital serving a county with 21,000 residents, has played an important part in getting Taekwondo at Wellness Works under way. They provided space for the program free of charge, refurbishing a separate laundry building into two classrooms, offices, and changing rooms. They also put down a new floor suitable for taekwondo classes.

‘The most important part of this ongoing program will be getting continuous feedback from the participants about their fears and concerns,” said Isley. ‘When a student begins to appear discouraged, frustrated, or disinterested, the staff can address the problem quickly. We’ll also offer a student workbook with weekly activities designed to promote a positive attitude.” Over the course of the study, children are expected to decreased their weight by 10 percent and be able to discern healthy foods that promote weight reduction.

‘Down the road, this grant will bring long-term benefits for the hospital,” said Rossidivito. ‘It costs an average of $2,300 each year to treat a diabetic patient, and that cost will only rise. But the real benefits from this federal grant will go to the children and adults who, because of Taekwondo at Wellness Works, change their lifestyles and habits, live longer, and make positive contributions to their families, their employers, and their communities. That’s my goal for this program.”

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