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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

Cooking up ways to keep kids fit

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KINGSTON, R.I. – July 19, 2010 – As the epidemic of childhood obesity continues to grow, University of Rhode Island Assistant Professor of Kinesiology Emily Clapham is helping cook up ways for kids to stay fit.


Clapham is part of the team at the Fit2Cook4Kids Summer Camp that is running through the end of August. Started by Karen Salvatore, founder of www.FoodandTruth.org, the camp teaches young teens the skills needed for a healthy lifestyle. Participants learn how to prepare and cook meals, develop social etiquette skills and are taught the importance of physical activity.


Clapham, who earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University, is the camp’s fitness mentor. An expert in physical education for adolescents, she understands the importance of encouraging children to lead an active, healthy lifestyle.


“The children in the camp are at an age – 11 through 14 - where, in the American culture, we see a dramatic decrease in the amount of physical activity, especially in females,” Clapham said.


As if the teenage years weren’t tough enough already, more and more adolescents are falling into a state of inactivity. According to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, the prevalence of obesity in children ages 12 through 19 increased from five percent to 18 percent from 1980 to 2008.


That means nearly one in every five teenagers has a high risk for cardiovascular diseases such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. These children also are at risk for bone and joint problems, sleep apnea and adult health issues such as diabetes, arthritis or cancer.


“This generation of kids is growing up in a different world,” Clapham said. “More and more, both parents have to work. Parents prefer their children to stay inside so they are safer, especially in urban areas.”


Because the adult work place has changed dramatically over the years, children have less time with their parents.


“Growing up, my family ate dinner together every night at the table,” Clapham said. “There is far less of that today. Families eat at all different times. Children are exposed to different technologies and media today, which leads to more instances of isolation. As much as youths are exposed to today, I’m not sure they have the same support system previous generations provided.”


Competitive team sports have a negative impact for many youths as well. Children join youth leagues at an early age. As competition for spots on a team occur at younger ages, the number of kids left out starts to increase.


“Not everyone is cut out to be a team-sport athlete,” Clapham said. “We want to show a variety of ways that the campers can stay active. Whether it’s going outside to take a walk or finding activities an individual can do on their own, the goal is to get them out and active.”


For her portion of the Fit2cook4kids camp, Clapham leads the children through indoor and outdoor exercises that include yoga, stretching and a variety of games. Campers also learn about nutrition, social etiquette and retail operation. During the week, the kids earn money by cooking meals and operating a café in the Independence Square Foundation building, home to URI’s Department of Kinesiolgy.


During the week, the campers are encouraged to bring recipes home to cook for their families.


“Self esteem is a major issue for many of these children,” Clapham said. “We want to help each individual learn a little more about themselves. By providing them with tools and knowledge that they can use at home, it gives them the confidence and motivation to stay more active.”


For more information or to register for the camp, visit www.foodandtruth.org.