Hinkley Combats Childhood Obesity with Health Education
Amber Hinkley, who graduated from UMF with a major in community health education and minor in nutrition, is confronting the childhood obesity epidemic head on in her first job out of college. At the the New Balance Foundation Youth Fitness Center (located at the Alfond Youth Center in Waterville), she develops and implements the Healthy Weight Initiative and Running Club programs. By year's end, she will have provided fitness and nutrition education to more than 100 central Maine children struggling to control their weight.
“One of the children in my programs is an 11-year-old boy who weighs 225 pounds,” she said.
And, unfortunately, he’s not alone. One-third of Maine youth are obese or at risk of obesity, according to a 2004 article in Maine Policy Review by Dr. Dora Anne Mills, Maine’s public health director.
Supported by a grant from athletic shoemaker New Balance, Hinkley leads participants through circuit-training exercises and surveys daily diets, waistlines and weights to mark progress. And for parents, she organizes Supper Club with a registered dietician from nearby Inland Hospital. The 10-week nutrition-education program features cooking classes and tours of area grocery stores to see where the most nutritious and inexpensive foods are stocked.
According to Hinkley, several widely acknowledged factors contribute to the childhood obesity crisis in America: inexpensive, oversized portions of processed foods and beverages laden with high-fructose corn syrup, simple carbohydrates and trans fats; infrequent physical education programming; and media reports of pervasive violence that motivate parents to keep their children safely indoors and, too often, inactive with television and video games.
Hinkley is pleased with the success of her programs, but for the sake of children everywhere, wouldn’t mind working herself out of a job.
“Type II diabetes used to be called adult-onset diabetes because it really only appeared among adults. It’s no longer called that anymore because we’re seeing it in children,” she said. “I knew at UMF that I wanted to work with youth in the fitness field, and I knew that childhood obesity was increasing. When I actually saw how many children are overweight or obese in the greater Waterville area, I knew that I was needed, and it’s up to me to make a positive change in these children’s lives today.”