Students LAUNCH into a Healthier Lifestyles

We all love our children, and we want to see them do well. In order to help newer generations succeed, the preceding generations must provide proper tools and pass on their knowledge. This is happening in Portage Schools, thanks to the combined efforts of the Portage Township YMCA, St. Mary Medical Center, and the Porter County United Way.

Danny Gonzalez, RN and Health and Wellness Coordinator for the Portage Township YMCA, has been visiting Porter County elementary schools on a weekly basis since the beginning of the school year. He works with all of the 3rd grade classes, teaching them healthy habits and introducing new foods and nutritional knowledge to them through the LAUNCH Program.

“As a member of the team who helped to create and implement LAUNCH through the Portage Township YMCA, I’m thrilled to see where the program is today,” Amber Alexander, Executive Director of the Portage Township YMCA said. “I appreciate all of Danny’s efforts in nurturing it to its current format. Additionally, I am grateful to the United Way Porter County for funding this program and pilot for the first three years. Without our partnerships with the United Way and the Portage Township School Corporation, this program wouldn’t be possible, so thank you to Jeff King, Dr. Weigel, and the United Way.”

The LAUNCH Program began in 2011 thanks to the partnership between St. Mary Medical Center and the Portage Township YMCA. LAUNCH is a solution to a growing problem: childhood obesity.

I was able to sit in on one of the weekly sessions at Myers Elementary School in Portage. Mrs. Bayer’s class was to learn the truth about sugar-filled beverages.

“This was offered to us as a pilot program a few years ago and it’s really taken off,” Mrs. Bayer said. “[The LAUNCH Program] goes along with Portage’s Wellness Policy. Mr. Gonzalez has the kids do exercises, he teaches them good nutritional habits, and he introduces them to different foods, too.”

Gonzalez was able to get his points across to the students easily. He had a good rapport with the class and presented things in such a way that what was demonstrated during the lesson really resonated with them.

The kids learned:

  • Sugary beverages i.e. pop, juices, sports drinks, energy drinks, etc. have no benefit other than that they taste good.
  • Consumption of sugary beverages can increase the risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, it can cause weight gain, weaken eyesight, cause headaches, as well as tooth decay and asthma.
  • Marketing companies target young children to try and get them to want their product by using celebrities like Lebron James, Taylor Swift, One Direction, etc.
  • Childhood obesity in children ages 6-11 has more than doubled since 1980, going from 7% to 18% Click here to see more statistics on the World Health Organization’s website.
  • There are 4 grams in a teaspoon, and it doesn’t seem like much, but Gonzalez measured out the amount of sugar in a bottle of pop (in this case it was a bottle of Orange Crush which had 71g of sugar per bottle, equating to 17tsp of sugar) and it was a lot more than the kids realized.

“I’m challenging all of you,” Gonzalez said to the kids. “Next time you are offered something to drink, which one will you choose: a sugary beverage or water?”

The class declared in unison, “Water!”

“We were inspired by another YMCA’s program down south called ‘Energize’,” Gonzalez said. “We actually went down there and learned how they did their program and made ours very similar. We developed our own lesson plans that targeted the youth in our community. We wanted to teach them the importance of healthy eating, how to make healthier choices, how to exercise without any form of equipment; just letting the kids know that they have lots of options.”

“St. Mary Medical Center and the Portage Township YMCA are moving toward becoming more active in our communities,” Gonzalez said. “We want to share as much education that we can with our communities so that everyone can lead healthier lives. When this opportunity arose, we jumped at it because we knew that it would benefit everyone, and we want people in the region to know that we care about them.”