Special to The Dallas Examiner
For most children in Dallas County, summer break is in full swing. This time of year is usually synonymous with too much TV, video games and unhealthy snacks. To counteract these habits, Parkland Health and Hospital System providers work hard to encourage children and their parents to learn about positive, healthy behaviors that can help them make healthy choices that will last a lifetime.
The percentage of American children and teens affected by obesity has more than tripled since the 1970s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, whose most recent data shows nearly 1 in 5 school-age children are obese – generally between the ages of 6 to 19 years old.
Each summer, Parkland hosts Camp CHAMPS – which stands for Choosing Healthy Activities, Meals and Positive Self-esteem – a series of day camps where Parkland physicians, educators, social workers and dietitians are on hand to teach children how to live healthy lifestyles in a fun and entertaining environment.
“During Camp CHAMPS we teach children about nutrition, exercise, healthy choices and other life skills,” said Jeff Howard, Parkland community development specialist. “We want to help kids learn healthy behaviors they can share with others and practice in all aspects of their lives, year-round.”
Campers are also screened and evaluated by physicians and nurses for any previously undetected conditions, such as diabetes, asthma, high body mass index and high blood pressure.
“Teaching children skills to live healthier lives is an important mission I stand behind,” said Edward Franklin, president and CEO of Voice of Hope Dallas, an organization that serves more than 300 children with their after-school programs and summer day camp.
Franklin is also the father of three former camp students.
“Camp CHAMPS is all about teaching the community about the benefits of healthy living,” he said. “During the camp we plant a seed and hope that after some time, children consistently choose the right foods, engage in physical activity and share what they’ve learned with others.”
Priscilla Fernandez, registered dietitian and Camp CHAMPS instructor, agreed, but said motivating children to make healthy choices is not always easy.
“Sometimes it’s a challenge, but we try to keep classes fun and active,” she said. “We show visual aids, schedule tons of activities and encourage lots of questions. Most importantly, we want kids to learn and have fun doing so.”
Franklin said the jammed-packed recreational activities schedule does help with the overall reception of the camp’s message.
“When it comes down to the lecture, kids are able to connect the nutrition part to the different activities. It’s almost like connecting theory to practice,” he said.
Fernandez said discovery is also part of her classes.
“Tasting new foods is a huge component in Camp CHAMPS,” she said. “In the past we’ve had children who had never tasted certain fruits and veggies. Keeping this in mind, each day we try to give students different healthy foods, so they can try something new, healthy and tasty.”
This year, camp sessions will be held:
• June 10-13 at Cesar Chavez Elementary, 1710 N. Carroll Ave.
• June 17-20 at Elisha Pease Elementary, 2914 Cummings Ave.
• June 24-27 at J.N. Ervin Elementary, 3722 Black Oak Drive.
• July 8-11 at Irving Salvation Army, 250 E. Grauwyler Road, Irving.
• July 15-18 at Voice of Hope, 4120 Gentry Drive.
• July 22-25 at Paul Dunbar Elementary, 4200 Metropolitan Ave.
• July 29-Aug. 1 at Cardinal Farrell Community Center, 321 Calumet Ave.
Franklin said he hopes parents consider enrolling their children in Camp CHAMPS so they can witness firsthand the big impact it can have on their families.
“The energy and excitement children take home after their camp classes is contagious and it can be a big motivator to change an entire family’s overall approach to a healthy lifestyle,” he said. “The kids want to put all they’ve learned into practice immediately. As a parent, it’s nice to just piggyback off their positive energy.”
For more information or to preregister, contact Jeff Howard at 214-266-0514 or firstname.lastname@example.org.