by Roberto Alejandro
Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper

Childhood obesity has quadrupled in teenagers, and more than doubled in children over the course of the last 30 years.  Frances Cuesta, a Baltimore area fitness and health advocate, has created an organization to address this growing problem among a very vulnerable population: homeless youth.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, almost 21 percent of young people between the ages of 12 and 19 were obese in 2012.  In 1980, that percentage was only five.  Eighteen percent of children between the ages of six and 11 are currently obese, compared to seven percent 30 years ago.

Cuesta has been working in the arena of health, fitness and wellness since the late 90s, first as a counselor for Jenny Craig, and then in various roles including a life coaching business and her current for-profit enterprise, Reinvent U Boot Camps, which addresses the health and fitness needs of women.

Cuesta is now combining her love and business acumen in the area of health and fitness with a concern for area homeless youth, and is seeking to combat obesity by taking a new program, called Fit 2 Change, into local homeless shelters.

“The homeless are a population that’s often forgotten, let’s keep it real,” said Cuesta during a recent interview with the {AFRO}.  “When you think of homelessness associated with health and eating habits, you think deprivation, you don’t think child obesity.  But what people fail to understand is that child obesity is very high [in] homeless shelters.”

Fit 2 Change has various components, including a fitness component called ‘Move’, a nutrition component called ‘Home Cooking,’ and a self-esteem program called ‘IMAGE’ (In Me A Greatness Exists).  All of the components look to team experts in their respective fields (fitness trainers for Move, professional chefs for Home Cooking) with the youth population at homeless shelters in order to teach them physical fitness, how to cook for themselves, and how to combat the sort of negative feelings that can drive bad health habits.

“We have to deal with it from a holistic angle when you’re talking about preventing obesity,” said Cuesta.

On Nov. 19, Fit 2 Change will begin a year-long pilot program at Loving Arms, a youth shelter in Baltimore City.  According to Cindy Williams, executive director of Loving Arms, the shelter emphasizes four areas of wellness—mental health, physical health, spiritual well-being, and emotional—and Fit 2 Change falls firmly within this ethos.

“If you are not well physically, it affects everything about you,” said Williams.  “Young people who are homeless, or runaways, or throwaways—which is the case for many of our young people—certainly when they’re dealing with issues of a lack of consistent or nutritious meals, all that is going to affect their energy and how they process, how their brains do their decision making, so I think [a program like Fit 2 Change] is critical.”

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