Published on July 21, 2014

Class is Rx for Kids’ Health


By Craig Cooper
Genesis Health System


Occupational therapist Megan Long began Prescription Fitness class before the class even left the building at the Genesis Outpatient Pediatric Therapy Center.

“We’re taking the stairs, not the elevator. This is a fitness class,’’ she said.
Prescription Fitness is a series of specialized exercise and nutrition classes for children who are at-risk for obesity and  life-long health conditions --  hypertension,  diabetes, heart disease, sleep disorders --  linked to obesity.

Children who participate in Prescription Fitness are actually prescribed by a physician to participate.

Once a week  in the fall, spring and summer, participants and someone from their family attend the class.  While the kids are outside exercising, their parents are receiving instruction about the important role they play  in preventing obesity. After their exercise, the class participants also have an education session on nutrition.

“The kids usually aren’t buying the food, preparing the food, or filling the plates.  It has to be a family effort,’’ explained Lindsay Schlicksup, an occupational therapist who oversees Prescription Fitness.  “There is very much an environmental and genetic link to childhood obesity.’’

On a recent late afternoon, 10-year-old Logan Nelson first ran several laps with Long on a grass course.  They also stretched together and went through drills with a soccer ball.  Meanwhile, Logan’s parents were listening to a presentation from a Hy-Vee dietitian.  

The class doesn’t really end. Participants go home each week with homework.  They are asked to exercise in some way for 30 minutes five days a week.  They are also asked to keep a journal of what they eat and how much they exercise.

“It doesn’t have to be traditional, strenuous exercise like running,’’ Schlicksup added. “It might be mowing the yard, playing outside, or vacuuming the house.  Lots of activities can be exercise.’’

But Schlicksup draws the line with any video games.  Even the more active games available  are not counted as exercise.

“One of the problems is that kids already spend too much time in front of screens,’’ she explained.

Prescription Fitness was started several years ago at the Genesis Outpatient Pediatric Therapy Center with the encouragement of Dr. Vickie Pyevich, a University of Iowa pediatric cardiologist who practices at the Genesis Heart Institute. 

Dr. Pyevich was becoming alarmed at the health trends she was seeing in  some of her young patients.  She was seeing children with potential health issues that usually didn’t appear until adulthood.

“She was seeing obesity, high cholesterol, hypertension in younger and younger children,’’ Schlicksup explained.  “We’re trying to reverse those trends for some of these kids.’’

Kids who participate in Prescription Fitness get a baseline screening of weight, heart rate and oxygen saturation.  At the end of their class sessions the screenings are done again.  There is also a 6-minute walking/running test given at both the start and the end of the program.

The Genesis Outpatient Pediatric Therapy Center  (GOPEDS) offers programs meeting the needs of children requiring physical, occupational and speech therapies. For information, call (563) 421-3497.
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