Keep It Fit: Helping Chicagoans Fight Obesity

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Rush University Medical Center and the Salvation Army have launched a six-month program called Keep It Fit, designed to help Chicago residents fight obesity and live healthier lives.

Some 50 families from the underserved neighborhood of Englewood are participating in the program, teaming up with medical, nursing, and allied health students at Rush who have volunteered to be personal health, fitness, and nutrition coaches.

The students will each be assigned to one of the participating families to help them develop a personalized plan that can get the whole family on track for a healthy lifestyle.

The students will then follow up with weekly meetings with their families. Depending on the family’s goals, the meetings might involve shopping for the right kinds of groceries, exercising in the Salvation Army’s Red Shield Corps Community Center in Englewood, which has a state-of-the-art gym, or modifying traditional cooking recipes to be healthier. In addition, monthly group meetings will bring all the families together for educational activities in fitness and nutrition, with speakers from the Rush faculty.

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“This isn’t the usual short-term weight loss program,” said Dr. Cynthia Waickus, family medicine specialist at Rush and the Rush faculty advisor for the student volunteers. “The aim of Keep It Fit is to teach families healthy habits that can last a lifetime.”

Obesity is at record levels in Chicago. According to a recent study by the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children, 23 percent of the city’s pre-kindergarten-aged children are overweight.

“The neighborhood where we’re located, Englewood, is just one of many neighborhoods dealing with this epidemic of obesity,” said Captain Julian Champion, Corps Officer at the Red Shield Center. “The problem is entrenched for myriad reasons: limited access to healthy foods, a lack of knowledge of healthy nutrition, little to no physical exercise, and just a general lack of support for healthy lifestyles.

“But with Keep It Fit, thanks to our partnership with Rush University Medical Center, we mean to change the status quo.”

After the program in Englewood ends, the Salvation Army and Rush are hoping to launch similar programs in other neighborhood community centers throughout the Chicago area.

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