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Early Saturday morning, the Central Catholic High School football field was filled with 7th and 8th grade students from Southside ISD. Sporting gym clothes and ready to compete, the students showed up participate in an obstacle course set up by Forward In Fitness, a new health initiative in partnership with City and state leaders working to combat childhood obesity through fitness initiatives.
The obstacle course was simple: hula hoop to start, followed by a sack race, frog jumps, and jumping rope. It was meant to be both challenging and fun. The three teams were comprised of a mix of City leaders and students who stood on either side of the course cheering one another on. Some sported the new shoes they received that were donated by Champs Sporting Goods.
Forward In Fitness is the brainchild of Non Profit Engagement, an organization that partners with nonprofits to help them to achieve their stated goals; in this case making health and wellness more accessible. Karina Villa, CEO at Non Profit Engagement, told the Rivard Report that Forward In Fitness was an idea that came into fruition because area schools understand the importance of reducing childhood obesity, which affects one in three San Antonio youth.
“We have partnered with City and state leaders who are actually going to go out and work out with these children at area middle schools,” Villa said. City officials will take turns visiting schools and exercising alongside the children, and will educate students on staying active and how to maintain good health throughout the lifespan.
City leaders will visit schools in Southside ISD, SouthSan ISD, and East Central ISD.
Villa told the Rivard Report that the reason for involving community leaders was two-fold. “We want them to see that we have a problem in the community. As of right now 1 in 3 children in Bexar county are affected by childhood obesity,” Villa said. They also want to give children the opportunity to “be inspired” by their community leaders.
District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño was in attendance Saturday, and was second on his team to participate in the obstacle course. After struggling with the hula hoop, Treviño raced through the sack race and frog jumps, to the sound of his teammates cheering him on in encouragement.
Treviño told the Rivard Report that combatting the nationwide epidemic of obesity is especially important to San Antonio, which has a reputation for being a city that is not very healthy or active.
“I believe that we are really turning that script,” Treviño said. “The great thing about this city is that it has so many great things to offer [kids to help them] stay active, and to turn that trend away from obesity and the reputation of our city as being a fat city.”
Treviño said that it’s important to let kids know that exercise needs to be a part of their culture. “They need to grow up and see being active as part of a lifestyle, and not just something you do now and then,” he said. “It has to be part of how you live.”
Laura Martinez, an eighth grader at Julius L. Matthey Middle School, attended the event because she enjoys being active and believes it’s important for kids to take care of their health.
“I’m here because its fun to come out out and compete with other students and get to know one another,” Martinez said. “It’s really important to stay healthy and at the same time have fun while doing it.”
Martinez said that she mostly learned about health and wellness in school, through playing sports, and because she enjoys being active. She told the Rivard Report that taking care of your body and eating right are important to her.
“I think it’s important for young kids to want to stay fit and healthy,” Martinez said, and added that it’s okay to eat unhealthy foods “as long as you keep it chill,” and don’t overindulge.
Forward In Fitness is hoping to increase education and opportunities to participate in activities that promote health.
In an effort to help kids understand health and wellness in a way that is more meaningful, Osteo Corps, a STEM-based comic book that works to present medical and health information to kids in a friendly way, was given to all participants. The stories revolve around super heroes whose powers are based on actual medical terms who battle villains that create disease and injury.
The comic book’s creator, Dr. Steven Cyr, an orthopedic spine surgeon, told the Rivard Report that he created these books “so that kids can gain knowledge and eliminate fear.” Cyr said that, ultimately, he wants to inform kids on the importance of caring for your body.
Randy Escamilla, director of communications at Southside ISD, said that the Southside has the most health disparity in the city. He cited the 2016 Community Health Needs Assessment created by the Bexar County Health Collaborative, a nonprofit working with the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District. The assessment reported that residents south of Hildebrand Avenue on a City Council district map have a 15-20% lower life expectancy than those who lives north of that line.
Escamilla said that increasing access to a healthy lifestyle is crucial. He told the Rivard Report that those living on the Southside don’t have access to local grocery stores and have less access to safe places to stay active.
“Having outside companies, politicians, and just having the community involved in our school district will lead to economic development and really get the needs addressed,” Escamilla said.
The next fitness event through Forward In Fitness will take place at Pearce Primary School, where Mayor Ron Nirenberg will lead more than 100 fourth and fifth grade students in working out and discussing the value and importance of exercise and good nutrition.