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WEST CHESTER — To help combat childhood obesity in the Philadelphia area, the Independence Blue Cross (IBC) Foundation took a huge step by implementing the Healthy Futures initiative.
The goal of the initiative is to improve the health of children and reverse the childhood obesity epidemic.
In a 2010 study by the Public Health Management Association, 42.5 percent of children, ages 6 to 12, in southeastern Pennsylvania were obese or overweight.
“The Independence Blue Cross Foundation has started this three-year, comprehensive research study as well as a program to try and combat childhood obesity and improve childhood wellness,” said Maureen Furletti, senior foundation program analyst at the IBC Foundation. “As part of that program, we have three tiers: Eat Right, Get Fit and Stay Well.”
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The three-year study encompasses 25 elementary schools throughout Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties.
St. Agnes School in West Chester is one of those 25 in the program.
“Since Independence Blue Cross serves the five-county area, we wanted schools in each of the five counties,” Furletti said. “When we were looking at Chester County, we wanted to have some representation of schools there, so we reached out to St. Agnes and asked if they wanted to be a part of this program. They immediately grabbed it because we are offering a lot of different wellness services to the students for free of charge to them.”
As part of the program, St. Agnes students have had a culinary class to teach how to cook, a class in healthy eating and healthy growing, a personal trainer has come by to teach techniques they can use at home and a CHOP nurse for a wellness class and injury prevention.
“They’ve had a little array of a lot of different things in childhood wellness,” Furletti said.
And on May 18, St. Agnes fifth graders had the opportunity to meet and talk with defender Richie Marquez of the Union as part of the Get Fit portion of the program.
“The kids absolutely love it,” Furletti said. “They get so thrilled to see a professional athlete come out here and talk to them about how he stays fit and what he does to eat right and get enough sleep at night and things like that. They do a lot of fun components with them, as well as some soccer drills. It really is just the motivation from the player and from the Union staff to get these kids pumped about getting the right exercise. It’s terrific.”
The students were broken down into different groups and rotated around to stations where they got to do different soccer drills and had time to speak with Marquez, who is in his rookie season with the club.
The students got to ask him whatever was on their minds.
“I think it’s awesome and I love it,” Marquez said. “I think this is how everything starts — you start young. As an adult, you can teach kids at a young age it’s better for them and better for them in the future.”
Marquez may not have had a professional athlete give him the motivation as a kid growing up in California, but that’s what his siblings were for.
“I have three older brothers,” he said. “Those guys were always on me and on my case. We’re all pretty competitive, so I was constantly trying to keep up with them.”
Sometimes with parents, whatever they say will go in one ear and out the other.
That’s why the IBC Foundation takes advantage of bringing in athletes.
“I’m a researcher and foundation person, but I always wear a different hat — I’m a mom, too,” Furletti said. “I know how excited kids can get and really, the impact it can have to have that influence and motivation, especially coming from these professional athletes and CHOP — the best of the best in childhood wellness. It’s really exciting.”
For Marquez, he relishes the chance to give back, especially to students.
“I’ve always loved kids,” he said. “I worked with kids in college and being able to help them out any way I can is always a special thing for me.”