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LASHLEY ZARIA YUTE GYM

LASHLEY ZARIA YUTE GYM by Katrina Welch Did you know that one in three children in Barbados are overweight or obese? Gone are the days when obesity and NCDs were limited to the ageing population; our children are now faced with these diseases. However, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Barbados Inc. remains undaunted in its dedication to fight against these diseases with its Yute

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LASHLEY  ZARIA YUTE GYM

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Katrina Welch

Did you know that one in three children in Barbados are overweight or obese? Gone are the days when obesity and NCDs were limited to the ageing population; our children are now faced with these diseases. However, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Barbados Inc. remains undaunted in its dedication to fight against these diseases with its Yute Gym programme.

Artistic and funloving 13-year-old Zaria Lashley said, “I enjoy all of it.” Her mother, Mandisa Lashley, explained that when Zaria was just eight years old, her paediatrician recognised that Zaria’s Body Mass Index (BMI) was trending towards the overweight category. As a result, she recommended Zaria’s enrolment in the programme to ensure that the Welches Primary student at that time could chart a new course towards a healthy lifestyle.

Zaria, who now attends The Alexandra School, admits that when she first heard about the programme she was apprehensive.

“I was so scared,” she said, “but when I got there and met the trainers, I realised it was not something to be afraid of. I was reassured that I would be fine. After the first session I said I love this because it was more like a family and I was comfortable.”

These initial fears were not shared by her mother. The 37-year-old architectural technician explained, “It didn’t make sense being worried since the doctor recommended it in order to help her lose the weight before it became a problem. When we took her we found that the instructors made it interesting and no one ostracised others about their size. They work together and she has always wanted to go.”

Mandisa was pleased to note that over the years she has seen a positive change in her daughter’s health and praised Zaria’s grandmother, Chéral Lashley, for playing a key role in helping with the young teen’s health journey.

“Yute Gym teaches the children how to take control of their health and improve their eating habits. Many who are overweight lose the weight and learn how to keep it off,” the mother of one said. “Since she is interested in going and learning we support her and encourage her. Zaria’s BMI is now very much in the normal regular size for height, but I won’t stop her from going even though she has achieved that.”

At the Yute Gym, participants

achieved that.”

At the Yute Gym, participants and their parents are afforded to opportunity to engage in both exercise and nutrition sessions. Parent education is seen as vital in ensuring that the parents are on board with the changes needed to facilitate healthier eating habits at home. Thus, while the children exercise, the parents sometimes attend sessions with the nutritionist.

Speaking to the lessons on nutrition Mandisa said, “We are taught how to make better choices, how to read food labels to understand sugar content and serving sizes, how to use certain foods in moderation and how to identify appropriate substitutes for unhealthy foods. For example, using fruits instead of sugary foods and sweet juices. Zaria has learnt a more structured way of eating and we are able to support her so she can maintain a good weight.”

The nutritional sessions are Zaria’s favourite part of Yute Gym. “We play a lot of games and it’s really fun. Sometimes we actually write notes and sometimes we also cook food. One time we cooked pumpkin muffins with dates, we’ve done salads; so, it gives us things we can do at home,” she said with excitement.

The interactive yet educational nutrition sessions have inspired Zaria to try different foods which she would not typically have eaten. With a laugh her mother noted that there were times when she noticed Zaria happily munching on a grape wrapped in a lettuce leaf. Zaria also admitted that while she was not fond of yoghurt, she now enjoys it frozen and often eats it as a substitute for ice cream.

“We have had to do food journals for the nutritionist about our daily meals, serving sizes, water intake and snacks for advice on how to improve on our diets. My granny controls my portions. Her food is really good and before I used to go back for seconds now I don’t,” Zaria said. “Every month they check our height and weight to monitor our BMI monthly and make sure that we are on track and talk to our parents about it if necessary.”

Exercise is another key component of the programme. With the sessions divided into three groups according to age, they participate in both indoor and outdoor activities such as dodgeball, skipping, jogging, beach exercises, weight training, highintensity training (HIIT) and the use of machines like the treadmill and bicycles.

Zaria enjoys the Yute Gym so much that she sometimes stays after class has ended to do her favourite exercise, skipping. She also admitted that her physical education lessons at school have become a lot easier since some of the exercises are the same. During the periods of lockdown, both the nutritional and exercise sessions were hosted online via Zoom.

The mother and daughter duo both praised the initiative with Mandisa saying, “There is a good support system. The children help each other when they don’t know how to do something, they motivate each other and even challenge each other with mini competitions. They learn how to live life healthily and enjoy it.”

Zaria, whose other passions are drawing and dancing said, “I made some good friends there and I enjoy all of it. I want to say to kids who have to go to Yute Gym that it’s nothing to be afraid of because everyone there will support you. I would say to other teens, eat more vegetables and be active. It is best to take care of yourself from now. Even though you want to live in the present, don’t only think about the present. Think about what you’d be in the future.”

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