Children run to kick Bronx obesity

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Each spring, little legs run through Van Cortlandt Park, aimed for the finish line.

Yet, the Healthy Kids Running Series isn’t about winning or losing, or even dropping their baby weight. The five-week event is meant to teach kids between the ages of 2 and 14 the disciplines of running and sportsmanship. And in Remi Shea’s experience as a community coordinator, her kids rarely take a tumble.

“Last season I didn’t need to break out the medical kit and never witnessed a kid fall,” Shea said. “I want to make sure we’re prepared in that, actually, and the kids are reminded about no pushing or tripping and gain focus that the race is not about winning, but experiencing the sport.”

Races are set for this spring beginning March 31, and running nearly every Sunday after that — except April 21 — through May 5 at 4 p.m., depending on weather.

Participating kids run in cross-country-styled races with distance catered to each group based on age. In the beginning, Shea started as a mom who just enjoyed bringing her kids to the running series. Even with a bun in the oven at one point, the community coordinator is making sure this spring’s run is an improvement on last year.

“I work full-time and I have my kids, but I really didn’t want the program to go away, and I know my kids enjoy it,” said Shea, who has worked with the series since last year. “I just believed in the program and the importance of providing a place where kids learn healthy habits and enjoy a sport. Think of the people who do marathons. They’re not all winning, but they’re all there doing it.”

Children from all over the city are welcome to come and get active, Shea said. Events like these serve as a cornerstone for health for many kids. When Pattison Sports Group president Jeff Long founded the organization in 2009, he wanted to combat childhood obesity in America.

And there’s a lot of unhealthiness in the Bronx, at least according to Montefiore’s Bronx Community Health Dashboard on Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity, which reveals the borough has the highest percentage of obese youth in the city. The Bronx also has the highest sugar-sweetened beverage consumption compared to all other boroughs.

Based on a 2015 U.S. Dietary Guideline report, Americans should eat a minimum of five servings of fruits or vegetables daily. Yet, a 2017 New York City Food Policy Center report from Hunter College, revealed just 4 percent of Bronx residents met that standard.

When it comes to her family, Shea isn’t a health nut. But she does make an effort to ensure her kids have a well-balanced diet. The running series is just added help.

“I have a treadmill in the house and the kids are like, ‘Can I go on the treadmill?’ and I put it on slow,” Shea said. “We just try to encourage healthy practices. We eat fruits and vegetables and everyone can indulge sometimes, but our kids see us engage in physical activities. Like my kids see my husband on the bike, so I think it’s also about leading by example.”

Shea’s focus is not only on her family, but also on ensuring the Healthy Kids Running Series is well funded and well attended. They get some help from their Elmsford-based sponsor, law firm Black Marjieh & Sanford. However, the working mom is always looking for more sponsors, donations and volunteers to join the non-profit community-based organization.

“The goal is to keep the program low-cost while still providing a high-quality event,” Shea said. As a mom, Shea knows what it’s like to have kids at an event and understands keeping the younger ones entertained also is key. She hopes in the future to include face painting or other activities the children can participate in while they’re waiting for their time to race, or even after they’re done.

“I have a six-year age gap between my kids,” she said, “and it’s difficult to find events that they can both go to and they can cheer each other on and enjoy together.”

The event is open to kids from all over the city, regardless of school or ability.

For more information on how to sign up or even sponsor, visit HealthyKidsRunningSeries.org.

“I love the program and meeting with other parents from the community and watching kids make friends with kids who are not necessarily from their neighborhood,” Shea said. “There is an element of competition, but there’s a joy in watching the kids take off from the starting line.

“They’re so excited when they cross the finish line, and it’s such a great feeling watching your kids enjoy the opportunity.”

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