With busy schedules, school and regular chores, many parents wonder how they can help their children battle obesity.

The Cain Center in Athens has an answer — The United Way Kids PACE Express, an exercise program for kids. In the next four to six weeks, Cain Center officials hope to begin offering children the exercise they need.

“The objective is to address the epidemic in the U.S. of childhood obesity and lack of fitness,” Cain Center Executive Director Marcia Colbert said.

According to the American Obesity Association, about 15.5 percent of adolescents (ages 12 to 19) and 15.3 percent of children (ages 6 to 11) are obese. The Web site reports the increase in obesity among American youth over the past two decades is dramatic.

The PACE program is aimed toward elementary-aged children, according to Colbert, although there will be some crossover for older children depending on their height.

“The machines are like adult circuit training machines. They are all hydraulic — the resistance depending on the child’s weight — and they are specifically designed for children,” Colbert said.

Even though the program is designed for kids grades first through sixth, she added there will also be areas in which tweens (ages 11 to 14) can participate. Interactive videos of tennis and golf, for example, will be offered.

In the adult weight room, the minimum age allowed to use the facilities is 16, though 15-year-olds can be allowed after taking a special orientation. This will also apply to kindergarten students in the PACE program.

“The entire area is sponsored by United Way. They gave us a grant for $20,000,” Colbert said. “They have special interest in the needs of children.”

Colbert explained that the workout area is located in the former Cain Room. A climbing wall will also be located in the hallway to the area, she added.

These kids aren’t just being thrown to the wolves, so to speak.

Children will take an orientation class that will familiarize them on the use of the machines and activities in the area and give them advice on activities to do outside of the exercise class, according to Colbert. This is so the children use the equipment as effectively as possible, she said. Also, the climbing wall may be opened to the children before their orientation is complete.

“There will be trained counselors who will teach the children about nutrition and exercise,” she said.

The Cain Center will offer these classes from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at least three days during the work week at regular hours on the weekend. Each one-hour class will continue for six to eight weeks.

The PACE program is offered in only two other cities in Texas — Richardson and Houston, Colbert said.

“It’s the East Texas premier (to have the program),” she said.

The cost for the class is not yet determined by Cain Center officials, but can be paid for existing and new memberships.

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e-mail kharris@athensreview.com

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