Parents, educators fight childhood obesity in San Gabriel Valley

Ariana Gomez is one of the participant in the water polo program.
Ariana Gomez is one of the participant in the water polo program.
Cecile Gregoriades/KPCC

About one fifth of all children in Los Angeles are overweight. Parents and educators in West Covina have decided to team up to fight the trend. Kids get free water polo classes at Nogales High School and parents take a nutrition class.

Nationwide, an estimated 15 percent of children and adolescents are overweight. But in Los Angeles, the situation is grimmer, according to a statewide physical fitness-testing program from L.A. Health Services.

Fifth, seventh and ninth grade students attending public schools in 2001 found that 21 percent of students in Los Angeles County were overweight and an additional 19 percent were at risk for becoming overweight.

To fight this trend, a team of parents and educators in the San Gabriel Valley have come together to launch a new community fitness and education program for at-risk students. Kids participate in a team sport at no cost, but in exchange, parents have to attend a nutrition class.

“Originally, we wanted to create an outreach water polo program, which is a sport that is lesser known than football or baseball," explains Timothy Tobin, head coach for the Nogales Noble Aquatics Program. "And then we realized that we could address some of the issues that are going on in this community at the same time. For instance, that there is not a lot of athletic programs for kids in the fifth to eighth grade."

Tobin’s hope is that children in his water polo class will lead healthier lives. The program started a year ago and there are about 50 children in the program already. “This is a good alternative to gang activity,” Tobin adds.

As part of the program, parents are asked to donate two hours of volunteer time, which includes attending helpful nutrition courses with topics that range from basic nutrition to feeding a young athlete, as well as including topics like swimmer dehydration.

“Coming from a counseling background, a lot of the kids that I see are depressed and the food they eat has a lot to do with it," says Victoria Garcia, who teaches the nutrition class. That night, she told about 15 parents who were sitting in one of Nogales High School's classrooms about the importance of water – not soda – in a kid’s diet.

“I work eight hours a day, and it’s hard to prepare food from scratch, so fast food is an easy way out,” says Clanie Valencia, whose son participates in the water polo class. But she says that she learns a lot during the class, particularly about the importance of reading labels.

Ariana Gomez is a 12-year-old swimmer and she can’t hide her excitement about the water polo program. “It’s the best sport ever!” She enjoys being in the water and feels a lot stronger than when she started. “I noticed that the kids are overall much happier,” says Tim Tobin.