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Thursday, September 19, 2019

New food and health program kicks off in Wakefield next week

Rhode Island Food, Fitness and Fun launches new 8-week session in Wakefield Sept. 24

Rhode Island Food, Fitness and Fun, a family-based program aimed at instilling lifelong healthy habits in children, ages 6 to 11, will be launching a new 8-week session for families in and around Wakefield beginning Sept. 24. 

The sessions, being held in collaboration with the Jonnycake Center, will be held each Tuesday through Nov. 19. 

Operated through the University of Rhode Island’s College of Health Sciences, the program began as a collaboration among South County Hospital, URI faculty, local physicians and pediatric dietitians to develop an early-intervention program that would meet the needs of overweight and obese preadolescent children.

Obesity among children and adults is a growing public health crisis in the United States. According to some of the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 1 in 5 school-age children and adolescents in the U.S. (ages 6 to 19) are obese, compared to 2 in 5 adults.

Stephanie Marchand (left) with program participants
Rhode Island Food, Fitness and Fun Program Director
Stephanie Marchand (left) with program participants.
(Photo courtesy of Rhode Island Food, Fitness and Fun)
Now entering its 10th year, the program, which began as South County Food Fitness and Fun, has helped more than 160 children and their families in and around South Kingstown and Westerly learn how to incorporate healthy lifestyle changes into their daily lives. 

Prior to this year, the program primarily relied on physician referrals. However, starting this fall the Jonnycake Center will also help identify families for the program.

According to Geoffrey Greene, professor of nutrition at the University of Rhode Island, who was involved in helping to develop the program, Rhode Island Food, Fitness and Fun has made progress in changing long-lasting behaviors around daily physical activity and food intake, making a healthy impact on the families involved. 

“Incorporating fun, hands-on activities has made a difference for our families in integrating life-long healthy behaviors into their daily routines,” said Greene.

Sessions generally consist of nutrition and physical activities geared toward children and parents. 

Nutrition instruction is most often presented as a series of interactive games that test children’s knowledge of food groups, nutrition, snacks versus treats or tasting new foods. This fall’s sessions will also include more hands-on food and meal preparation for the entire family.

In terms of physical activity, children are introduced to new activities such as yoga, team games or things like jumping rope. The instruction is focused on introducing children to something fun, that is easily modified for their skill or ability level, and that can be done on their own at home. 

Children then get to teach their parent or caregiver about the activity they’ve just learned and then are sent home with a nutrition challenge and physical activity challenge for them to work on together over the course of the week.

“I have personally witnessed children make considerable healthy changes that have continued into adolescence. Not only has the program had an impact on health – but it has also helped to promote a greater sense of self-esteem among our participants,” said Dr. Celeste Corcoran, a pediatrician at Hasbro Children’s Hospital and a RIFFF board member since 2009, noting that poor self-image has been shown to be strongly associated with obesity in children.

The program has been successful for a majority of participants in helping them to reduce their overall relative weight which is their body mass index percentile for their age and sex.

Now supported by grants from Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, fundraising activities, donations from the medical community and volunteers from the University and surrounding community, the program expanded from Wakefield to Westerly in fall 2017. 

Plans exist, pending grant funding, to expand the program to include sessions in Warwick and/or Newport.

To ensure the continued success of the program and to reach more children and families in need, earlier this year board members decided to explore the possibility of collaborating with local community organizations. 

Based on their research, a new 8-week modification of the existing program curriculum was developed in collaboration with the Jonnycake Center to address the specific needs of children in their community.

Additionally, in order to encourage continued activity throughout the winter months, the YMCA of South Kingstown has agreed to offer a free three-month exercise program beginning December 1 as a follow up for those youth who have completed the program.

“We’re excited to embark on this new phase of the program,” said Program Director Stephanie Marchand. Marchand is a registered pediatric dietitian who, in addition to running the program, takes part in its educational sessions. “We see this as a crucial step in our expansion and in our ability to reach additional children and families in need.”

For more information on Rhode Island Food Fitness and Fun, visit or call (401) 263-5488.