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Health club, camp help kids fight the battle of the bulge

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Kathleen Foody
July 3, 2009
— Hours on an elliptical machine might work for some fitness gurus, but belly dancing is the best way to stay healthy this summer for 15-year-old Beth Pessoa.

"It's different, but it's really fun and a good workout," she said. "There's a lot of moving your hips, and your stomach and sides start to burn after a while."


Pessoa discovered the routine because of a free membership offered by Butterfly Life Women's Fitness Center in Janesville to teenage girls this summer.


The center is just one of the ways for teens and kids to stay active.


Wisconsin's percentage of obese and overweight children (10-17) is actually lower than 38 other states and Washington, D.C., according to a report released Wednesday by Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.


But Rock County Health Officer Karen Cain said developing healthy habits early in life creates a better chance at continuing that lifestyle.


Offering free summer memberships was a small way of contributing to that effort, said Bonnie Smith, owner of Butterfly Life.


"I think it's something we really needed in the community, and we can offer something different than just going out and running around on their own," she said.


For younger children, owner Justin Schott is in the midst of running several sports camps through the Evansville Health Club. Schott said he wanted to offer a wide variety of activities, not just the usual summer sports.


Each camp runs for a week or two at most.


"We wanted to have something different running through the summer," Schott said. "It's not just about being active for a few weeks but hopefully for the duration of the summer."


The camps are meant for athletes of all skill levels, introducing skills to newcomers or developing skills among more experienced players.


"In any exercise program for adults or youth, everyone has their own goals," Schott said. "It's important to establish those and build your program accordingly."


Summer can be a good time to try something new, said Shelley Slapak, recreation coordinator for Janesville's Department of Parks and Recreation.


The city offers summer camps that include different activities and parks with tennis courts and bike trails. Families also can rent sports equipment for their kids including lacrosse sets.


"We encourage kids to stay active any way possible," Slapak said. "Just going out and enjoying a park is great and may lead to more physical activities."


Megan Summerbell hasn't been involved in sports at Parker High School for the last year, but at Butterfly she's learned to love step classes and other activities.


"I haven't really been the athletic type because I'm not very competitive," she said. "(At the gym) you can go whenever you want and it's always fun."


Her mom, Lisa, said it's been encouraging to see Megan head to the gym each morning—and not worrying about the cost has helped the family.


"It's really motivated her," Lisa Summerbell said.


"I think it's hard at the high school level for kids that haven't started a sport or something to join in. This has just been great for her."



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