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Fitness boot camp helps fight childhood obesity

  • Story Highlights
  • FitWit's program is a six-week after-school boot camp competition
  • CDC data shows childhood obesity is a huge problem in the U.S.
  • Program rewards participants with prizes for meeting fitness goals
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By Katherine Dorsett
CNN.com
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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- One of the best gifts you can give a child this holiday season may not be the latest gadget, toy, or tasty treat, but instead the gift of a healthy lifestyle.

Participants get a workout at the FitWit fitness boot camp.

Participants get a workout at the FitWit fitness boot camp.

An Atlanta-based non-profit organization is doing its part to combat childhood obesity by teaching kids proper nutrition and exercise in a six-week fitness boot camp similar to NBC's "The Biggest Loser."

The FitWit Foundation hopes its program will catch on nationwide.

"We wanted to work with teens in a meaningful way, and we saw firsthand how fitness and physical activity in general is being neglected in this population. With a lot of help from volunteers and donors, we've started a program this past spring that encourages hard work and is a fun way to get in shape," said FitWit instructor Ben Thoele.

FitWit's program is a six-week after-school boot camp competition which rewards participants with prizes for meeting fitness goals. An iPod Nano was the grand prize for Atlanta Public Schools students completing a recent fitness session. Video Watch for more on FitWit »

Students who are motivated to get in shape but not involved in an organized sports team are selected as contestants. Participants' fitness levels are assessed at the beginning and end of the program.

Each week, volunteers lead three 60-minute sessions that include fitness instruction and physical health education. In addition, the participants are assigned two home workouts to be performed between sessions.

"After six weeks, all participants have an increased total fitness ability. We averaged over 40 percent improvement in total fitness in our first program last spring. It's common to have a participant double their fitness ability," Thoele said.

"A lot of these kids don't know how to work out, or that they even have the capacity to work out. They gain an appreciation for pushing their limits, and when that happens, we see a tremendous boost in their self-confidence," he said.

The need for increased fitness across the country is striking. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17.6 percent of U.S. teenagers were obese in 2006 -- more than triple the rate in 1980. Obesity puts the teens at increased risk for heart disease, bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems, the CDC says.

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"Success for us is when a kid is thinking about fitness outside of the program, because they enjoy how they feel when they're in better shape," Thoele said. "Our first winner, Raquel, told us that she continued to come because she just felt better. She had incredible numbers as well. She was not able to perform even one sit-up at the start of the program and did 21 in our final assessments. She also shed more than 90 seconds off her mile time."

"Since I've been here, I've been eating healthy," one FitWit participant said. "I have been watching what I eat and drink. I drink three cups of water every day. And I exercise more often. I don't spend too much time inside my home anymore."

All About Health and FitnessObesityCenters for Disease Control and Prevention

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