BLOOMINGTON — As Owen Marshall warmed up on an elliptical trainer and Aaron Reed warmed up on a recumbent bike, Jessica Kraft asked them in separate conversations whether they had met their week's goal to exercise 30 minutes a day, whether they were eating a fruit or vegetable with each meal and how much sleep they were getting.

After Aaron, 12, and Owen, 11, both of Normal, completed their cardio work, weight lifting and balance exercises and as they did their cool down, Kraft gave them ideas of how to integrate more movement into their days, encouraged Aaron to write down exercises that he does each day and asked them their goals for the next week.

What was happening in the Center for Healthy Lifestyles at OSF HealthCare St. Joseph Medical Center in Bloomington during the evening of Jan. 11 was way more than personal training.

Healthy Kids U-Bloomington is a free pilot program to improve the health of pre-teens and teens who are sedentary and overweight, which puts them at risk of pre-diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, depression and anxiety.

"Our goals are to get them healthier with lifestyle changes," said Kristy Braun, pediatric nurse practitioner with OSF HealthCare Medical Group-Pediatrics Bloomington, which sponsors Healthy Kids U with the Center for Healthy Lifestyles (CHL).

"Our focus is on health, not weight," Braun said.

The pilot program began nine months ago, 30 pre-teens and teens have been referred to the program and 11 have completed the 10-week program which focuses on exercise, healthy eating, sleep and stress management, said CHL Director Erin Kennedy.

Braun, Kennedy and Kraft, a CHL cardiac screening assistant and exercise physiologist who is the personal trainer for Healthy Kid U participants along with exercise physiologist Matt Hanks, believe they are building a foundation for a growing program.

"One hundred percent of the participants said they felt comfortable exercising after they completed the program compared with before, 100 percent said the program was fun, two joined a local fitness center after completing the program and three have increased their visits to a fitness center that they already were members of," Kennedy said.

After participants graduate from the program, they are given an opportunity to continue to come to the CHL to exercise on Mondays and Thursdays. Two graduates are doing so, Kennedy said.

So far, Braun has seen in her practice that several participants have experienced a decline in cholesterol and BMI, or body mass index, which measures body fat based on height and weight.

"I think the results are very good based on the excitement of the children and families," Braun said. "We did not expect to see drastic results."

"Hopefully, we are building healthier lifestyle changes and providing them with that education at a young age that will result in a healthier future," Kennedy said.

Conversations among OSF Medical Group-Pediatrics Bloomington, Center for Healthy Lifestyles and OSF HealthCare Children's Hospital of Illinois in Peoria began a year ago.

"We recognize that, in our community, there is a need for increased physical activity among our youth," Kennedy said.

Braun said that, in her practice, she has noticed an increase in screen time and a decrease in physical activity among pre-teens and teens, which has resulted in increased BMI, pre-diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol, depression and anxiety.

The program began last April as a pilot for patients of OSF Medical Group-Pediatrics Bloomington and is intended for 11- to 17-year-olds with unhealthy lifestyles and who could benefit from exercise and nutrition counseling.

Braun and doctors and other nurses in the medical practice refer patients and families to the program.

Goals are for each participant to get an hour or more of physical activity each day, to eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day, to spend two hours or less each day with recreational screen time and to have no sugary drinks but drink more water and low-fat milk.

Kraft and Hanks meet individually with each participant as they begin the program to discuss their goals and limitations. They also meet with a dietitian to discuss nutrition and healthy eating.

Workouts are 45 minutes long, after school on Mondays and Thursdays in the CHL.

Each workout is one-on-one with Kraft or Hanks and includes cardiovascular fitness, strength training and balance and flexibility.

"On Mondays, they set a goal for themselves and, on Thursdays, I ask them how they're doing with that goal," Kraft said. Goals may be to exercise 30 minutes each day, to eat at least one fruit or vegetable with each meal, to eat breakfast each day, to go to bed an hour earlier each day or to play video games for 30 minutes rather than an hour each day.

"My doctor recommended it (Healthy Kids U) to me," Aaron said. "I have a little overweight problem. She thought it would help."

"My initial reaction was I didn't wanna do this," conceded Aaron, whose first workout was Dec. 28.

"But, after the first session, I liked it. I liked how nice my trainer (Kraft) is. She encourages me to do my best and gives me goals to set that would benefit me. I'm thankful for that."

Since Aaron began, he's eating more fruits and vegetables, getting more sleep and is asking his father, Donald Reed, and brother Joshua, 15, whether they can go to the gym.

"I think it's going pretty well," Aaron concluded. "It's good to have something to help you to have a healthier life. I needed that right now."

"I think it's great," Donald Reed said. "Once he started to get a taste of it, he became excited about going."

"It's made him more confident," Joshua said.

Owen said Braun referred him to the program in November.

"I was kind of excited for it," he said. "I don't get to do stuff like this. I wanted to get more active."

With Kraft's coaching, Owen said he has become more comfortable with the workout, is eating more fruits and vegetables and is going to bed earlier.

"I feel like I'm getting stronger," he said.

"He's more motivated to be active," said his mother, Julie Smith-Marshall. "Now he asks to go to the gym and for healthy foods like salads and smoothies. On the days he works out, he's tired, so he goes to bed earlier. He's drinking more water. He's healthier overall."

Owen graduated from the program last week but plans to continue to work out in the CHL twice a week. His mother plans to bring her other children.

"It's fun," Owen said.

Kennedy said the program will be expanded to OSF family medicine offices.

"People who do this feel better about themselves," Kraft said. "And everyone wants to be around happy people."

Follow Paul Swiech on Twitter: @pg_swiech


Health Reporter

Health reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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