Step by step

Oroville pediatrician’s Fitness for Teens program teaches healthful lifestyle changes

Dr. Maria Alice Alino shows her pride in Fitness for Teens graduates Kaysha Ellis (left) and Farah Yousif.

Dr. Maria Alice Alino shows her pride in Fitness for Teens graduates Kaysha Ellis (left) and Farah Yousif.

Photo By Evan Tuchinsky

Interested in enrolling?
Oroville Hospital’s next Fitness for Teens course will start this February. Youngsters ages 10-17 are welcome; a doctor’s visit is required. To participate, or for more information, call the office of Dr. Maria Alice Alino at 533-4422.

Kaysha Ellis may be only 10 years old, but recently she took a step that could shape the rest of her life. Make that 12,000 steps—a day.

Kaysha is one of 12 graduates of Oroville Hospital’s first Fitness for Teens course. Created by Kaysha’s pediatrician, Dr. Maria Alice Alino, along with registered nurse Joyce White and nutritionist Shauna Huston, the program helps young people ages 10-17 avoid the pitfalls of obesity by teaching them to live more healthfully.

The weekly program brought together young people at risk for health problems associated with excess weight. Alino, White and Huston provided guidance and lifestyle choices—ones better than watching TV, sitting at the computer or munching on sweet, fatty snacks. Among the examples: walking those aforementioned 12,000 steps a day.

Turns out, Fitness for Teens didn’t just benefit the participants—it sparked changes in relatives, too.

Kaysha’s mom, Dalena Johnson, said fried chicken and soda were among her family’s dietary staples. Now, she’s preparing more nutritious meals, and less than a month removed from the two-month program, her fiancé has lost 30 pounds and the other three family members have combined to lose 60 more. What’s good for Kaysha—such as a diet geared toward diabetes patients—proved good for her loved ones, too.

Sticking to the regimen will be all the easier thanks to the unlimited gym membership each graduate received from the Oroville Sports Club. Kaysha signed up last Thursday.

“I’m a very proud mama,” Johnson said. “I’m extremely grateful. We’re going to continue.”

That’s music to the ears of Alino, who has seen so many patients with obesity and pre-diabetic conditions start to make progress but lose enthusiasm and momentum.

“We do a lot of weight management in the office and telemedicine with UC Davis,” she said, “but this is the first time we did it in Oroville Hospital. It was a more rigorous program—instead of once every three or four months, this was eight weeks, every Tuesday, one to two hours—and there was more success.”

Oroville Hospital’s youth-fitness program brought together (from left) Dr. Maria Alice Alino, nutritionist Shauna Huston and registered nurse Joyce White.

Photo By Evan Tuchinsky

Fitness for Teens came together in just six months. Inspired by the TV show The Biggest Loser, Alino wanted to create an educational and inspirational program for her patients. The first idea was a walkathon, but instead they opted for a multiweek course that would involve 15-20 participants.

Alino selected 18 patients from her practice to comprise the inaugural class, which was free. (A half-dozen dropped out of the program, mostly after summer vacation ended and Oroville schools went back in session.)

The Fitness for Teens sessions featured three “stations.” At Station 1, Alino measured vital statistics along with pounds and inches lost. At Station 2, White educated the participants about exercise. At Station 3, Huston covered diet.

The components go hand-in-hand.

“One of the things we wanted to emphasize was this wasn’t weight loss—this was fitness,” White explained. “You can’t have fitness until you incorporate nutrition and activity into lifestyle changes.

“We [as a society] are so obsessed with weight, and diets don’t work if you focus on the weight by itself and you starve yourself. We have self-esteem issues; we have eating disorders. We [running the program] didn’t want to encourage anything like that. This is strictly a holistic approach to fitness.”

In addition, White didn’t stress exercise as much as activity. She issued pedometers to all participants and encouraged them to walk more. One easy way she recommended for adding steps: asking parents to park farther back in the lot to increase the distance between the vehicle and the destination.

Huston made similarly practical suggestions. She taught participants how to interpret the information on food labels and make choices accordingly. She didn’t call for expensive changes—as Alino quipped, families didn’t have to buy arugula, just produce they could find at FoodMaxx.

“We integrated things that at this age applied to them,” Huston said, “and we based the program in the real world.”

White said the nutrition lessons included “a lot of visual cues. My favorite is that a scoop of ice cream matches a tennis ball. A deck of cards matches [a helping of] meat.” Managing portion sizes becomes easier when you know what to look for—literally.

Farah Yousif found the dietary info particularly enlightening. A 17-year-old from Oroville High, Farah comes from a family where weight isn’t a universal challenge. In fact, she said, her mother already prepared “good food” with a healthful mix of proteins and vegetables; for Farah, portion control and exercise were the issues.

Particularly enlightening for her, Farah says, is the amount of sugar in many processed foods. She now reads labels carefully and makes deliberate choices when eating out. More than that, she’s counseling her 13-year-old sister, who will be her gym partner.

“She’s my support,” said Farah, who also signed up for a personal trainer. The program “affected me pretty hard. I’m happy they did it and hope they keep doing it.”

“February,” Alino interjected, noting Oroville Hospital plans to conduct Fitness for Teens twice a year.

Kaysha—one of just two 10-year-olds in the program—learned a lot about food, too, and also took away a new attitude about activity.

“Exercise 60 minutes and try to fit it in every day,” she said. “It’s easy.”