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Teen Finds Support for a Healthy Lifestyle and Wellness at Teen Esteem Gym-alternative program

by Antoinette Ritchie, pictured here with her teacher Ms. Constance Kelley

Antoinette Ritchie of Trenton Central High School was one of the first students to enroll in the new Teen Esteem health and fitness program designed and implemented by the Women’s Heart Foundation in 2004, in collaboration with the school’s youth services program and other stakeholders. "I signed up because I wanted to lose weight and be fit, but this program offers girls so much more", she said. "We work out with two personal fitness trainers, prepare healthy recipes with a registered dietician, and we have talk sessions about what is important to us. That’s one of my favorite parts of the program. It helps girls become strong when we can speak out for what we believe (in)", she said. "I also love the fieldtrip to Wegmans for ‘Shopping for a Healthy Heart’ and learning about how to choose healthier foods. It’s fun. Now in her junior year, Antoinette is proud that she was selected to be a Peer Leader. "I instruct the other students how to use the equipment. I tell them right from wrong. They listen to me. When Peer Leaders help other girls, we get a feeling of oneness."

The voluntary all-girl gym-alternative program was introduced as a pilot in October 2004. Now in its second year, the program is already demonstrating positive results through a research study being conducted by the Rutgers University Department of Nursing, in collaboration with the Women’s Heart Foundation and the school.

The health and physical education teachers had approached the Women’s Heart Foundation in 2003 to design and implement a wellness program for students because they were not eating right or taking care of themselves. Poor performance was a result. Snack foods were being used as a replacement for nutritious ones. The national average for overweight and obese children and adolescents is at 37% and climbing. At Trenton Central High, while statistics are not readily available, estimates are at more than 50%. The nursing department is in the process of gathering this information. Teachers were also concerned about the surge in school violence and teen pregnancies. Teen Esteem is a healthy lifestyles program to learn life skills. Many of the participants are of normal weight or underweight, but this does not exclude them from health problems. Poor eating habits contribute to metabolic syndrome, diabetes and poor school performance in children of normal weight. A survey conducted by WHF at the school revealed only 10% of the students in the study were eating breakfast and less than 10% were eating the recommended four to five servings a day of vegetables.

"Before Teen Esteem, I ate breakfast only 1-2 days a week. Now, I eat breakfast four days a week. I eat more fruits and vegetables. I exercise more and I know more ways to exercise", she said. Antoinette feels the program has resulted in a much stronger bond with her teacher, Constance Kelley."Ms. Kelley loves all of us no matter how bad we are. She is always there to support us. She understands us. She talks to us. She knows where we come from and what we go through on a daily basis. Ms. Kelley is the best!"



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