The FitWorth challenge started by Mayor Betsy Price in 2012 is meant to prevent childhood obesity and prepare children for adulthood, said Noah Drew, the FitWorth director.
For four weeks in June and July, more than 1,700 children in Fort Worth competed in the challenge, Drew said. Supervisors like Linda Beltram of Andrew “Doc” Session tracked every fruit and vegetable, cup of water and minute spent exercising and reading.
Beltram said Andrew “Doc” Session is one of the smaller community centers in the city and doesn’t have a gym.
Inside the building, the children have a 1,900 square-feet room with a few tables and a couple closets filled with toys, but no exercise equipment.
“We have to be very creative because we either play inside or travel to the nearest park or use the parking lot,” Beltram said.
Beltram said not having an indoor gym was difficult for the children because they had to exercise outside in some of the hottest months of the year.
Beltram said the $1,000 award will mean a lot to the children who come back next summer or participate in the after-school program. The money could be used for playground equipment or to serve another need, like reading materials, she said.
Tracking minutes spent reading was a new addition this year to FitWorth and part of a citywide focus on literacy, Drew said.
“Studies have shown that when children practice healthy habits early on, they are more likely to continue these habits into adulthood,” he said.
Price read aloud to children at the Andrew “Doc” Session community center as well as to other children who took part in the challenge, Drew said.
Beltram emphasized that many of the children in Andrew “Doc” Session’s programs are at a low reading level. The center caters specifically to low-income families, often with parents who work all day and need a place like Andrew “Doc” Session to mentor their children.
“Some of the kids at 5 years old … still may not know their ABCs,” she said.
Beltram said she was impressed with the change she saw in the children’s eating habits during the challenge.
“What happened is–we have Coke machines and candy machines,” Beltram said. “Our kids were used to just buying cold [soft] drinks. We saw a change in them, from buying cold drinks to buying water.”
Beltram held a competition between the younger and older children at the community center to fuel their enthusiasm.
“Most of the kids ate the carrots and the celery,” Beltram said. “I was surprised by that.”
She added with a laugh, “I know when I was growing up, all I cared about were the sugary items.”
Beltram said Andrew “Doc” Session will continue to track children’s healthy behaviors in its after-school program.
“We’re going to be checking them as to how much water they’re drinking, as to how much fruit they’re eating,” she said. “We have them read for at least 15 minutes a day.”
Greenbriar and Handley-Meadowbrook community centers won second and third place in the FitWorth challenge, earning $750 and $500, respectively.
Since FitWorth began in 2012, it has helped contribute to a 6 percent decrease in the number of Fort Worth Independent School District students who are overweight or obese, according to a press release.