Grant will help fund Oakwood ‘Family Fit Zone’ program

The Oakwood Center for Exceptional Families recently received a $5,000 grant from the International Transmission Company (ITC) Charitable Giving Program that will help fund the Family Fit Zone program for another year.

The Family Fit Zone is a free weight loss program that helps children with disabilities learn the benefits of exercise while providing their parents and families with the educational tools to keep them fit, active and eating well.

“The program allows us to continue our focus on the whole family,” said Stephanie Pritula, a Certified Nurse Practitioner who oversees the Family Fit Zone at the Center. “We want to keep the children moving and having fun and we want to engage their parents or other caregivers to show them the importance of maintaining a healthy environment at home: more family dinners, less juice, more water, less sugar, more vegetables.”

Childhood obesity is on the rise across the country, and research has shown that children and adolescents with physical and mental disabilities are at an even greater risk for developing obesity-related conditions that can follow them into adulthood, said Dr. Susan Youngs, the medical director of the Center for Exceptional Families. Through programs like the Family Fit Zone, she said, the Center hopes to prevent obesity, which can lead to asthma, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, depression and low self-esteem.

“It’s clear that we need to make an effort to prevent and treat obesity in our younger population,” she said. “Effective approaches to reduce obesity and weight-related issues among young people with disabilities focus on prevention strategies that begin early in life. We need to establish healthy lifestyle habits during this important developmental period.”

Family Fit Zone is a weight-loss program, offered free of charge, for children with special healthcare needs. It includes a one-hour weekly exercise session designed to accommodate children with special needs, combining circuit training with yoga for flexibility and stress reduction. While the children are exercising, the parents receive instruction and materials to help them to continue the healthy behaviors at home. 

“Children can only do so much on their own,” said Pritula. “It’s important to get the parents and the families involved so that they can make smart decisions, too.”

The Oakwood Center for Exceptional Families, based in Dearborn, serves children with multiple special needs and their families throughout southeastern Michigan by providing high quality health care combined with physical, occupational and speech therapy and other support services.

ITC, based in Novi, is the largest independent electricity transmission company in the U.S. with about 5,500 circuit miles of transmission line in the western and northern portions of Michigan's Lower Peninsula that serves a population of 4.9 million.