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Allied Health project buckles down on obesity

Fat City? Fat Chance
Allied Health project buckles down on obesity

April 2003

by Amanda Gallagher

The San Antonio River Walk has long been a place where visitors can stroll through the city and chew the fat. But over the past decade, there’s been a little too much chewing and chewing… and more chewing. Once again, San Antonio earned the dubious distinction of "Fattest City in America" from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Men’s Fitness magazine ranks the city the 13th fattest in the nation.

"We always top the lists as the fattest city and that’s not something we’re proud of," said Lee Adams, a student in the physician assistant (PA) studies program.
So Adams and a team of four other PA students created Muevelo San Antonio! - a community outreach program that, as the name implies, is going to get
San Antonians up and moving.

"We got the idea from Lighten Up Brooklyn, a program started in New York to encourage residents to lose weight," Adams said. "Almost 6,000 participants lost more than 80,000 pounds over the eight-week contest period."

Muevelo San Antonio! will last six weeks, beginning May 25 and ending in July. The goal is to introduce San Antonians to the benefits of weight loss through
fun exercise activities. "We aren’t encouraging any binge diets," Adams said. "We are advocating a healthy lifestyle. We want to keep people motivated about living that lifestyle and losing weight."

Muevelo San Antonio! begins with a kickoff party at the Health Science Center track. Participants will pound the pavement in a series of exercise walks scheduled at local parks throughout the community for the next six weeks. Every participant will receive an entry packet containing coupons, fitness tips and a weigh-in card. Each week, participants can check their weight at one of more than 20 local gyms volunteering to serve as official weigh-in sites. Participants who lose the most weight will win prizes - although everyone who takes part will come out ahead.

"I think if you make exercise appealing enough and easy enough, people will do it," said Estela Sifuentes, a Health Science Center employee who plans to take part in Muevelo San Antonio! "I think it will work because it doesn’t require you to go to a gym and exercise with people who are very fit and have nice bodies - which can be intimidating."

Sifuentes said she knows the importance of incorporating exercise into daily living. "My mother had diabetes and died from complications of it almost 20 years ago," she said. "I swore I would do everything I could to keep from getting this disease. About two summers ago, I was walking four miles a day and lost weight. But I haven’t been able to motivate myself to start again."

Muevelo San Antonio! may be the perfect excuse to get back on track. "There are a lot of efforts to decrease the obesity epidemic," Adams said. "We’re just another cog in the wheel - but we think our program will be fun and easy and really encourage people to get out and exercise."

Adams hopes about 2,000 people will participate and wants to make Muevelo San Antonio! an annual event.

While the activity was his idea, the actual project initiative came from the Health Science Center’s PA department. "We challenge our senior students to create a project that will change the community," said Judi Colver, assistant professor of physician assistant studies. "Dr. J. Dennis Blessing (chairman, physician assistant studies) and I both have a strong belief in becoming involved in the community and we thought it was important to instill that in students."

Three other groups are doing community outreach projects that include an osteoporosis initiative, hearing conservation and a health promotion project distributed through small-town newspapers. "Students are absolutely overjoyed to be out in the community and realize they can make a difference. They’re all receiving positive feedback," Colver said.

Even Adams is a bit surprised at the way Muevelo San Antonio! is coming together. "We knew this was a pretty ambitious undertaking, but we decided to just go with it," he said. "So far, we’ve been able to do the entire project with donations and people are really excited about it."

Among the assistance: a cash donation from SBC, gym memberships and prizes from local fitness centers, and even a visit from the San Antonio Spurs Coyote during the kickoff event. "This project teaches us how to work with community resources in both traditional and non-traditional ways," Adams said.

But he’s not the only one who benefits. "I am very much aware of the importance of exercise. I just need to follow my own advice and ‘walk the walk,’" Sifuentes said.

Hopefully, thousands of others will join her.


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