Hospital boot camp makes exercise fun for kids

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As soon as she heard the word "go," Ashley Jackson grabbed her orange dumbbells, lifted them above her head and then lowered them to her sides.

To the sound of the pulsating music, she continued with the dumbbells until she heard Rickey Dickenson say "switch."

She put them down immediately and began jumping jacks.

Ashley, 10, is part of a Kids' Boot Camp at Memorial Hospital West in Miami, a program aimed at getting kids in shape.

For Ashley, the 45-minute high-impact class gives her something to do during the summer and helps her achieve her goal of being able to wear her clothes comfortably.

"I have some clothes I stretch out," she said. "It's tiring, but it's fun."

Memorial West's class is one of several offered through hospitals to help children stay healthy through exercise and proper eating. While Memorial's program is specifically geared toward keeping children active, both the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and Miami Children's Hospital offer comprehensive programs for children who are obese or at-risk of becoming overweight.

The idea is to encourage healthy eating and exercise as early as possible to prevent health problems. They say parents need to introduce fruits and vegetables and limit television and computer time so it becomes part of a child's routine.

"It's a serious problem and can only get worse," said Dr. William Muinos, who heads the Weight Management Program at Miami Children's Hospital. "It's all about health."'

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of every three children is obese. The number has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years, the CDC reports.

Muinos sees about 30 children every Friday as part of the hospital's weight management program. He said in extreme cases, he has worked with children who have had to lose more than 100 pounds. While he works to get the children to understand the importance of losing weight, he knows he has to make sure the family is on-board.

"A child can not do it by themselves," he said. "The parent has to make the commitment."

Dickenson, who teaches the class, said he tries to make it like a club with popular music and includes games so "they can be kids." He creates a high-endurance and high-cardio class by using hula hoops, sliders, weights and balls.

"I make it a rock star-type atmosphere and the kids get into it," he said. "By the end of the class they are all sweating."