BANGOR, Maine — Obesity now affects 17 percent of all children and adolescents in the United States, triple the rate from just one generation ago. In Maine, more than 28 percent of children are considered overweight or obese.
However, the Bangor Cub Scouts have earned special patches for drinking water, eating healthy and being physically active at their meetings. The scouts were awarded the patches at their pack meeting on June 4 at the First United Methodist Church, and also graduated from the Tiger Den to the Wolf Den.
The pack partnered with the Healthy Kids Out of School Initiative, a program of ChildObesity180, an organization that researches child obesity and forms collaborations to prevent it. The initiative focuses on assisting out-of-school programs to teach kids the benefits of drinking water, eating well and exercising regularly. In order to generate excitement among Boy Scouts, the organization developed the SCOUTStrong Healthy Unit Patch with support from the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation.
To earn the patch, Scout troops follow a 3-6-9 meeting system. Three meetings are used to discuss the benefits of drinking water instead of sugary drinks. Six meetings are spent talking about and practicing healthy foods and eating habits. Nine meetings incorporate 15 minutes of exercise.
The Bangor den was among the first in the state to receive the patch.
“It’s really important for them [as kids] to learn to stay in shape so when they get [older] they can stay healthy … That’s important whatever age you are,” said Sandy Smith, den leader for the Bangor Wolf Den Cub Scouts.
Smith became a den leader in May 2013 after his grandson, Seamus, wanted to join the Cub Scouts. Last fall, representatives of the Healthy Kids Out of School Initiative presented at the Cub Scouts council meeting to train the den and pack leaders to better educate their scouts on how to lead healthy lives.
“When [my wife Colleen and I] heard of the Healthy Kids program we thought this is something that everyone can benefit from, not only the kids but the parents as well,” Smith said. “When we got working with it we found that there were things that we could improve upon.”
Smith took what he learned at the meeting one step further. He got parents of the Scouts involved by helping them adopt healthier lifestyles. A few of the parents also had professional expertise in the areas of nutrition and physical fitness. Every week, Smith had one of these parents teach the Scouts about ways to live healthy, with each week focusing on a different theme or subject.
“Because [the kids] were Tiger Scouts, it was mandatory that the parents attend every meeting, and so the parents were also hearing the information, which was great because then the parents were taking that information home and trying to make changes to their own diets and encourage the kids [to eat healthy],” Smith said.
Jaime Laliberte, a wellness benefits manager at Eastern Maine Medical Center, was proud to help her seven-year-old son Benjamin and his fellow scouts learn about physical fitness.
“Of all the things that I felt I could give the pack, it would be my passion for fitness and a healthy lifestyle … I volunteered myself to help out with that and in turn got my role as Den trainer,” Laliberte said.
Every week, Laliberte focused on a different physical activity to inform the kids about fun ways to stay active, while also teaching them some basic anatomy and physiology so they could better understand their bodies.
“The contributions of the parents make it more meaningful. It adds a new dimension to scouting and keeps us more engaged,” Laliberte said. “I could sit at the back [during meetings] and check my email if I wanted to but this makes [parents] a part of the process.”
Her son and his fellow scouts enjoyed hiking through the woods and learning about different healthy snacks. All of the scouts put together their favorite healthy snack recipes, which Smith made into a cookbook handed out at the June 4 meeting.
“[It’s important to be healthy] so you don’t get all chubby,” Benjamin said.
According to Smith, the format will be adopted in every den of the Bangor Cub Scout Pack by next year. Smith hopes other packs in Maine will see the benefits and start adopting the program.
“[Smith’s story is] a fantastic example of someone taking our work and taking it an extra step further,” said Alyssa Koomas, regional program director for the Healthy Kids Out of School Initiative.