The youth-driven iConquer program combats the biggest health threat among our children.
By: Dr. Salim Surani
Passion, energy, dedication, devotion, discipline, cultivation, excitement and joy: This is how I would describe the program, iConquer, a youth-driven program whose mission is to combat obesity and diabetes, and to create a healthy and happy nation and healthy and happy communities.
With the New Year approaching, we all make ambitious goals and attempt to transform our own lives. Is it the time for us to teach our children by setting an example with our actions. Obesity has been labeled one of the biggest threats in South Texas. More than 33 percent of children and adolescents in this country are obese. Obesity has doubled among children and quadrupled among adolescents over past three decades. One in three Texas children is overweight or obese, and almost 50 percent of Hispanic children in Texas fall in this category. In Texas, Hispanic children have the highest rate of obesity.
Obesity has grave consequences for the person, the family and society. Its consequences are severe; it can decrease the life expectancy of our future generation, with increases in the risks of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, joint problems and sleep disorders, to name a few. Children with asthma and obesity have a 29 percent higher rate of hospitalization. In addition, children who are obese have lower grades and a higher frequency of absence from school.
Studies have shown that the pre-kindergarten age is critical, as that is when habits are formed. Children who are obese at 3 to 5 years old are eight times more likely to be obese in adulthood compared to children who weigh within the normal range. It is imperative that education on combating childhood obesity and improving health habits is engrained at an early life, and parents and peers need to serve as role models. Most of the current programs are geared toward middle and high school, which is important, but early childhood education on this important issue is lacking.
The iConquer program is unique and youth-driven in its efforts to combat childhood obesity and promote healthy living at a very early age. This program has been designed and run by the youth of our community. They reach out to children from the early childhood development stage to first grade. They use a unique, four-week program encompassing four 45-minute sessions, as well as a high-tech audience response system to gauge their knowledge. During each session, they use an array of engaging, age-specific activities, such as animated movies (written and scripted by community youth), puppet shows, hip-hop sessions and exercise routines.
The emphasis is also on healthy food, as they promote kid-friendly portions and feature youth and professional chefs demonstrating the preparation of healthy snacks. The concept is unique; the youth serves as mentors and role models for children in addition to their parents and siblings. Getting parents involved in these activities is the new goal for this club.
Developing healthy habits at an early age will help us have a healthy generation, and prevent numerous health-related costs and consequences later in the lives of our children. Since these children are the leaders of the next generation, let’s transform our lives for the healthier and conquer diabetes, obesity and chronic illness.