At the YMCA in Charleston, friends Jaidyn, Ceaira, Shayla and Tyra have just gotten down from the mobile rock wall. They’re all 12 and are a little giggly about being back down on the ground.
“My favorite part of today was climbing that rock wall because -- that was scary,” Tyra said.
For the past 25 years, the Y in Charleston has been hosting Healthy Kids Day - a nationwide annual program aimed at teaching kids and families how eat well and be active through the summer months.
The girls said they all try and play sports through school, but that usually when they get home, they eat - specifically ramen noodles - and watch TV.
Jaidyn said she’d rather go outside and run than watch TV but that she lives in a wooded area and isn’t real comfortable going out by herself. Tyra agrees.
“I mean, I like running but I can’t go outside and run because there’s dangerous people out there and I’m not trying to get kidnapped,” Tyra said with a laugh.
Avon Cobourne, business development director for the Y in Charleston, said his hope is that by getting and keeping kids moving, they can begin to shift West Virginia off the national lists of “most overweight and obese.” But it’s not just obesity that’s the problem.
“One of the biggest epidemics that we have is the opioid epidemic and I think the problem is once these kids turn 12 there’s nothing for them to do,” he said. “I mean there’s no -- all of the funding, all of the funding, and all of the programs stop at age 12. From 13-18 there’s nothing for them to do. So were going to do a teen center in Montgomery.”
He’s referring to the brand-new YMCA that opened in Montgomery in March. Before the Y in Montgomery opened, kids in that community had no safe options for a place to be active.
“We have people -- grandparents -- coming in who’ve never been afforded the luxury of going to a workout facility,” Montgomery Y aquatics director Jessica Wagner said. “Kids coming in wanting to use the workout equipment and get on the ellipticals and treadmills and coming to swim and they say, ‘oh I’ve never been able to go to a swimming pool before.’ So it’s huge -- we’ve never had anything like this in our community and it’s very much needed.”
The Montgomery Y is reusing the old gym facility from the now-closed WVU Institute of Technology. It’s the first community center Montgomery has had.
Malcolm White brought his three kids, ages 3-10, to the first Montgomery Y Healthy Kids Day.
“Montgomery doesn’t have anything and since the Y has come in the opportunity of the kids being able to get out and get a positive -- well they say it’s fun -- but I think it’s good for the kids instead of sitting at the house on their video games, on their phones they can get out, mingle with the other kids and really learn something that will be positive throughout their life,” White said.
Pediatrician Traci Acklin was at the Montgomery Health Kids Day with other members from her practice teaching kids about drinking water and making smoothies to eat more fruits and vegetables. She said before the Y came, kids had no choice for where to go to be active and that partially, as a result, she’s seen obesity rise exponentially in her practice.
“Obesity, hypertension, diabetes -- all the things you used to see when people were 30s and 40s and now we see when they’re 10 and 11,” Acklin said. “And so, the scope of any pediatrician’s practice has drastically changed over the last 20-30 years.”
Acklin said she feels like pediatricians and public health workers are doing a better job about getting the word out and teaching about healthy foods, soft drinks and being active. But what she’s most excited about is the new Y where she says, the whole community can have a place to go.
Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, with support from the Marshall Health, Charleston Area Medical Center and WVU Medicine.