Teaching families to live a healthier lifestyle

With obesity rising for a generation in the U.S., it’s become more and more important to teach children early about the values of eating well and living a healthy life.

That starts in the home.

Wake Forest Baptist Health—Lexington Medical Center and the J. Smith Young YMCA in Lexington have been teaming to bring free classes to children and families. The MEND (Mind, Exercise, Nutrition, Do It) program is designed to be a fun way to learn and live a healthy lifestyle.

“We give them the tools that they need when they’re children in the hope they will not be obese adults,” says Orla Kelly-Rajan, LMC, RN, for Lexington Medical Center and MEND program director. “It’ll prevent them from developing health problems when they’re adults. And, of course, these obesity programs don’t work unless the whole family participates.”

YMCA MEND graduates

Twice a week for 10 weeks families come to the YMCA to get lessons: on the mind, which help with self-esteem; on exercise, with fun, non-competitive games; and on nutrition, with learning sessions about nutritious foods, portion sizes and even a visit to a market to learn about reading labels.

“The store tour is a great eye opener,” Kelly-Rajan says. “We try to find MEND-friendly foods. It’s amazing to see how many MEND-unfriendly foods are available.”

Unfortunately, stores are filled with non-nutritional foods, which in turn are marketed to families, Kelly-Rajan says.

“I feel it’s very unfair,” she says. “We all know fruits and vegetables are healthy, but unless you know how to read food labels, it can be difficult to decipher between healthy vs. unhealthy food.”

Even yogurt, she says, can be tough to shop for because of the fat and sugar levels in many brands.

“It’s very hard to get a yogurt that is healthy,” she says.

In the MEND program, children range from slightly above ideal weight to obese. Their parents and, often times siblings, join for the sessions. The goal is to educate all.

“The MEND program really opened our eyes and helped us a lot,” says Rosa Mojica of Lexington, whose daughter, Sabra, 10, recently completed the program. Mojica familyShe says her husband and all four children attended classes and activities together, and continue to live a healthier lifestyle now that the program has ended.

For example, she says her children no longer drink sodas or sugar drinks of any kind, and instead use bottled water to quench their thirst. They’ve also cut out chips in favor of “tons of fruits and vegetables.”

And the entire family, she says, is much more active. They all to go to the YMCA together for different activities. She says she enjoys the bikes and treadmill as well as turbo kick classes and Zumba, while her husband, Mark, works out with weights and her children (besides Sabra, there are Malaysia, 12, Autumn, 9, and Mark Jr., 8) swim. At home, Mojica says, the entire family now likes to get outside to play football and soccer together.

MEND has been offered four times over the past two years. The program has been sponsored by the Lexington Medical Center Foundation and the YMCA, enabling parents to not only attend for free, but obtain more information once classes end through a password-protected MEND website and a magazine. Details are not set yet, but a weight management program will again be offered in the fall, Kelly-Rajan says.

Word gets out through notices sent to Lexington schools as well as physician offices, the medical center and the YMCA. For Mojica, who learned of the program through a notice her daughter received at school, MEND has been transformative.

“Since the MEND program, it’s like night and day with us,” Mojica says. “We’re Hispanic, so we used to have flour tortillas and tons of gravy, real fattening foods. Now we’re not doing that. We’ve cut out almost all our breads. We just notice that our energy level is ridiculously high.”


Community Financial Support Mother and daughter on the run together—for good health Day of Caring provides health resources for those in need Empowering and engaging women and girls Teaching families to live a healthier lifestyle
Community Financial Support Mother and daughter on the run together for good health Day of Caring provides health resources for those in need Empowering and engaging women and girls Teaching families to live a healthier lifestyle




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Last Updated: 04-24-2013
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