BodyWorks helps families become healthier

When Shelly Parker decided that she wanted her 13-year-old daughter, Rebecca, to learn more about healthy eating habits, she didn’t know where to turn.

When Shelly Parker decided that she wanted her 13-year-old daughter, Rebecca, to learn more about healthy eating habits, she didn’t know where to turn.

“When you’re alone in a family of four,” said Parker, who has been an administrative assistant at Kentlake High School for years, “it’s hard to make changes on your own. Kids don’t want to hear what mom or dad have to say.”

However, Parker last year in January, hit her lucky day.

At a wellness seminar she took through her school district, Parker heard of a new program at Valley Medical Center in Renton: BodyWorks, a health education program, developed by the Federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), designed to provide parents, caregivers, and girls ages 9 to 13 with tools to improve family eating and activity habits.

It sounded perfect.

Parker immediately enrolled herself and her daughter in the 10-week long class. Now, sometime later, they both rave about the results:

“I learned a lot from that class,” said Rebecca. “There was this one video, for instance, where they showed you how to read the labels, and you learned how much sugar was in soda. I really liked it!”

And now, these unique BodyWorks classes are coming to Bellevue, April 22 – having been adopted by Overlake Hospital Medical Center.

“This was something we needed to address in Bellevue,” said Susan Higley, Overlake’s education coordinator. “It’s about time to be offering families with useful tools and to have them talk with professionals about how to incorporate healthy eating habits into everyday life.”

How BodyWorks works: Special trainers – who go through a rigorous, one-day seminar to become well-versed in the BodyWorks philosophy, goals, and in how to use the special toolkit (provided by HHS) – then provide the BodyWorks classes throughout their own communities.

At the 10-week long classes that the families and caregivers attend – which meet for an hour and a half, once a week – the trainers facilitate discussions on how to improve health, and teach how to be supportive when it comes to making healthy choices. The philosophy revolves around taking small steps towards healthy eating, and to set realistic goals.

The ambition of BodyWorks is to provide life-skills which will enable girls to fight against occurrences such as obesity and eating disorders – as well as to simply enjoy balanced and healthy eating.

Pediatrician Dr. Monica Richter, responsible for initially bringing the program Valley MC, knows that in today’s society, the pressures on young adolescents to be thin and pretty, is detrimental and is doing an extreme amount of harm to young girls’ psyches:

“I think that there is too much emphasis on appearance, and it feeds into self esteem issues – at a very critical time,” Richter said. “We need to place more emphasis on health and wellbeing, rather than appearance. We’re investing now [in the BodyWorks program] by giving adolescents the tools and information, so they will have a life-long healthy lifestyle. The goals we make within the classes are reasonable, measurable, specific and forgiving.”

The trainer for the series of classes beginning on the 22nd, Joanne Montzingo, a certified nutritionist, whole-heartedly agrees and added in that much of the responsibility also falls on the parents:

“I also think that the girls really have to have their parents support them,” Montzingo said. “The parents have to see the value.”

The BodyWorks classes for families are free, though the commitment is large, and facilitators recommend the program only if families are able to make a full commitment. The program is also arranging on expanding to other parts of Washington such as Ellensburg, and Richter is planning on creating classes for adolescent boys and for Spanish-speakers.

The Parkers are very appreciative that they had the opportunity to be involved in BodyWorks, and highly recommend the program to others.

“I’d recommend this class to other people,” Rebecca said. “It was fun and I learned a lot.”