We’ve all heard it before.
Kids aren’t active enough. Kids aren’t eating healthily enough. Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years.
Michelle Obama has fashioned her whole agenda as first lady around this issue. It’s definitely a problem.
Fran Dean Bishop, an accomplished fitness coach and business owner, says she thinks that kids want to be healthy and are looking for opportunities to be or remain fit; however, sometimes they lack those opportunities.
So she started MECKids, an interactive health-and-fitness website, in 2006 as a platform to give students the tools and resources to be active and fit and to make nutritiously sound food choices, completely free, of course. Charges occur only if parents want to interact and assess or track or download a program for the family, or if teachers want to do the same for the classroom. The platform was initially launched in high schools in the Washington, D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area, but has since gained more than 25,000 users across the nation.
“The whole reason that I started MECKids comes from a young lady by the name of Lisa who contacted us in 2006 because she was looking at a program that we had at the time called Fitness by Phone coaching,” Bishop told The Root.
“That program was for adults, and it provided adults with not only health coaching and lifestyle coaching but also provided them with a bit of personal training and a fitness regimen. And she had found a program in a local magazine, and she read about me and read about the program and said that this was perfect, but she misread the print and thought that the program was only $4.95, and it was actually $495,” Bishop explained.
For most people, $495 is a tall sum, but for a teenager, it’s nearly impossible. The idea that a young woman wanted to do something to change her health, but nothing was available that targeted her age group specifically, spurred Bishop into action.
“That really helped me appreciate that, you know what? Kids are not as blind as folks may think,” Bishop mused. “I think being able to take care of themselves is a no-brainer, and kids want to be able to make those choices, and the more resources we give them to be able to do that, hands down, I think better choices are made.”
Bishop explained that MECKids takes an ABC approach—that is, awareness, balance and connection.
Students can log in and track their fitness and nutrition and become aware of how their bodies are burning energy. There is also a recipe library and a fitness-video library that students can access to help them with healthy snacks or with an easy, quick workout, as well as blog entries with quick tips and tons of relevant health and fitness information.
“There’s study after study after study by the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services], and just different universities around the United States, that has talked endlessly about the importance of staying active and how it really does promote a better productivity [and] higher test scores,” Bishop said.
The platform also fosters a sense of “togetherness” as kids see that they are not on the path to fitness alone, partnering with more than 500 resources—including farmers markets and child-friendly gyms and wellness facilities—around the country for activities and events, where kids can go and meet other students and get active while still learning about health and nutrition.
“It gives kids the touch points of ‘Hey, I can be active. There are other kids being active,’” Bishop said.
“For us, it’s just providing a variety of resources for students, for kids, for parents, for teachers,” she added. “The reason we have that kind of kaleidoscope approach is that one size doesn’t fit all. And if there’s … one thing I’ve learned as an exercise physiologist in 20 years of practice, [it’s] that there’s a reason why there are probably a thousand different types of diet programs, nutritional programs, fitness centers and fitness gadgets: because not one size fits all when it comes [to] the way in which [people] get motivated to stay healthy and fit.”
Breanna Edwards is a newswriter at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.