Inspire the World to Fitness®
IDEA member Pam Skinner, MS, and her partner promote Balance Bands as a way to empower kids and their parents to make better food choices.
IDEA member Pam Skinner, who lives in Huntington Beach, California, has always thrived on coming up with novel approaches to motivating her clients and participants. The 25-year fitness industry veteran, who has a master’s degree in recreation administration, has dabbled in many corner pockets—not-for-profit, facility management, corporate fitness, to name a few. However, it’s her entrepreneurial knack for finding needs and meeting them that has proved most successful.
Case in point: Skinner started a concept called “StrollerSkate,” one of many ideas that focused on helping other mothers get fit and healthy. “We met in the local roller rink,” Skinner recalls. “We had about 20 moms who brought babies, toddlers and preschoolers. We put up giant baby gates so the kids could roam around. I led the women through about 40 minutes of strength training, and then we placed the kids in strollers, put on disco lights and music and skated for about 30 minutes.”
It was while facilitating StrollerSkate that Skinner came across another idea. “I noticed that many of the moms desperately wanted to lose ‘baby weight,’ but were not making progress,” she says. “I read about an idea in a magazine where you put five bracelets on your right wrist first thing in the morning. Then, throughout the day, each time you have a serving of fruits or vegetables, you move one bracelet to your left wrist. It’s a game, a visual cue where the goal is to get all five bands on the left wrist by bedtime.”
Along with her business partner, Millie Starks, Skinner started making what she called “Balance Bands” by hand. “We gave them to our gals to test. They loved them, so we started perfecting the concept.”
Simplicity and Fun
Balance Bands caught on quickly. The word got out and eventually Skinner and Starks created a set for kids and, later, teens. The kids’ version, five brightly colored rubber bracelets, became a hot educational item at many schools. This thrilled Skinner, who harbors a special mission to help fight childhood obesity. The bands are successful, says Skinner, because they are simple, affordable and easy to implement.
“It’s a game, and it’s fun!” she says. “There are all kinds of activities and games built into teaching the ‘5 a day’ program. For example, kids break up into teams of two. They pick a flash card with a photo of a fruit or vegetable. Each team has to come up with two ways to eat that fruit or vegetable, and then share the idea with the rest of the room. For example, pineapple can be a topping on pizza, or mixed into a smoothie. Some classes do taste tests of new or different fruits or vegetables. It’s very interactive, and the kids also track their progress on goal sheets taped to their desks.”
Skinner made the foray into schools quite naturally. She spent many years on the nutrition task force at her daughter’s school. She also did several pilot studies with the bands at private schools, YMCAs and Head Start facilities. Last spring, all the students at Smith Elementary School in Huntington Beach got a chance to try out the program. “We did pre- and post-tests, and the students increased their nutrition scores by 266% (from an average of 1.01 serving per day to 3.7 servings per day),” says Skinner. “This was all after just 1 week! Imagine what could happen with ongoing nutrition education.”
It was while working at the school that Skinner came across the opportunity to work with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a partnership between the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation, with which IDEA collaborates (see sidebar “Help Kids Get Healthy”). This opportunity is just one of many she sees as a means to reach kids and their families.
Tested and True
Skinner encourages other fitness professionals to be more assertive about promoting basic nutrition principles, while staying well within their scope of practice. Balance Bands, she believes, are a simple way to offer a visual cue for the existing “5 a day” concept. “I’ve been teaching fitness for 25 years and most of those years I steered clear of nutrition information, unless I brought in a guest to lecture to my clients,” she says. “As a result, I think my clients did not enjoy the results they could have had, if I had incorporated some basic nutrition. It is very hard to argue with eating more fruits and veggies (unless you are a diabetic and need to watch the sugar in fruits).”
An added benefit to the kids’ Balance Bands program, according to Skinner, has been watching as entire families get excited. She relays a fun phone message she and Starks received, during a recent program: “Hello ... this is Ron Johnson. I am just calling to report that this is my third trip to the grocery store this week for fruit!”
SIDEBAR: Help Kids Get Healthy
IDEA Health & Fitness Association has joined with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation—a joint initiative between the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation—to fight childhood obesity. The Alliance’s goal is to stop the nationwide increase in childhood obesity by 2010 by taking bold, innovative steps to help all children live longer and healthier lives.
By supporting local efforts you can be a part of turning the tide on this alarming trend. You can help by pledging to provide one or more of the following in-kind services in your local schools or in your community:
- group fitness classes for youth or school staff
- personal training services for youth or school staff
- group exercise instruction for school staff
- discounted fitness facility memberships for school staff
- used equipment donations for schools or community organizations
Once you make your pledge, an Alliance team member will be in touch to match you with a local school or community group. For more information, please contact email@example.com.
SIDEBAR: Tell Us What You Are Doing
Are your clients obese, disabled or just starting to exercise after years of sedentary living? We want to hear how you are motivating, challenging and retaining clients on a long-term basis. In 200 words or less, detail the specifics of your program and client(s), along with your name and contact information. If your success story is compelling and unique, we may use it in a future issue or on the Inspire the World to Fitness® section of the website.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mail: Sandy Todd Webster
10455 Pacific Center Court
San Diego, CA 92121-4339
Fax: (858) 535-8234
SIDEBAR: Inspire the World to Fitness®IDEA’s campaign unites our members with those of other organizations in a joint effort to reach out to nonexercisers. Our commitment is to provide you with information and sources so you can act locally.
Joy Keller is a senior editor of IDEA Fitness Journal.