RED SPRINGS — It’s 8 a.m. and 8-year-old Michael Andersen is just getting to school at Peterson Elementary.
The best part of his day isn’t lunch, recess or going home after the bell rings to play his favorite video game. His favorite part of the day is going to an after-school program at the Southeastern Lifestyle Center of Red Springs.
In particular, he likes Mondays and Fridays.
“It’s fun,” Michael said while asking his instructors for lined paper. “We get to go swimming usually on Mondays and Fridays.”
As Melissa Oxendine, instructor for the after-school program and a receptionist at the center looks for a sheet to give him, she explains the layout of the class.
“When the kids first get here, they do their homework,” Oxendine said. “It’s nice for them to have someone sit down with them and help them one-on-one.”
Fellow instructor and receptionist, Krista McLellan agrees.
“I think they’ve improved a lot since the class began in August,” McLellan said.
The after-school care program at Southeastern Lifestyle Center of Red Springs teaches healthy habits, such as nutritious diet and exercise. The class, which costs $10 a day or $40 a week and is open to youth ages 4 to 12 years old, tries to develop life-long habits to combat obesity.
It is especially relevant for youths in Robeson County.
According to NC Nutrition and Physical Activity Surveillance System in 2010, the percentage of Robeson County children ages 2 to 18 who are either overweight or obese is a little more than 42 percent. North Carolina is ranked No. 5 as the worst state for childhood obesity in the country.
The after-school program is a potential lifesaver: Four of the leading 10 causes of death in the U.S. are related to obesity — coronary heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and cancer.
Janice Fields, Family and Consumer Sciences agent with North Carolina Cooperative Extension, points to a factors weighing down the local numbers.
“One factor for some is a lack of a safe place to play or exercise,” Fields said. “We do have nice parks in Robeson County, but they may not be close enough for some folks to get to on a regular basis. Thus, we still have a personal responsibility to find a way to get enough physical activity to burn the calories we consume.”
It’s a sentiment the instructors at the center echo.
“Every day we incorporate physical activity,” Oxendine said. “We take them to the aerobic room, outside or to go swimming. We do activities to keep them active.”
Oxendine suggests keeping youth away from video games when they are home.
The after-school care program, which currently has six students but has room for 20 more, lasts from 2:45 to 5:15 p.m. Within that time, the kids follow a strict schedule of doing their homework, eating a healthy snack, participating in a physical activity, doing a craft and cleaning up. The class will be offered at the Lumberton location when enrollment picks up.
According to McLellan, the fact that the students quietly complete their homework upon arrival is only the second most surprising thing about the class.
“I was surprised they liked the healthy snacks,” McLellan said. “They were more excited about apples and peanut butter than I would have been.”
On the topic of healthy snacks, Fields suggests another way to affordably promote health in the home.
“Prepare more meals at home using simple and quick recipes,” Fields said. “Studies show we consume less fat and sugar when we eat meals prepared at home. When we eat out, we consume fewer fruits and vegetables and dairy. Start by making a list of foods your family enjoys, and make it a priority to prepare that food more often at home. Make extra as you have time and freeze leftovers for future meals.”
If you need some direction as to what constitutes a healthy snack, just ask Michael.
“Pizza isn’t healthy,” Michael said. “Apples, oranges, bananas and strawberries are healthy.”