In the guest article below, PreventObesity.net Leader Adeola Sonaike shares the story of Get FIT, a unique program that’s making sure that a community often ignored by the obesity-prevention movement also has an opportunity for a healthier future.
Like many young women, Laura has struggled with her weight.
Unlike her peers, Laura faces a unique challenge: She has cerebral palsy.
But that hasn’t stopped her from losing 60 pounds.
Laura shed the extra weight by taking part in Get FIT, a wide-reaching initiative launched in 2008 by the Family Resource Network that is designed to address obesity among the disability community in New Jersey.
“If I can do it, you can do it, too. There’s nothing you can’t do with Get FIT,” Laura says. “You need patience, dedication and moderation. Instead of eating junk food, you can go grab an apple or a banana, or go for a walk, instead of just thinking about eating.”
While the ongoing obesity epidemic has received a lot of attention within the health and political sectors, there has been limited discussion about how obesity is affecting individuals with disabilities — and even less discussion about how to help them.
Enter the New Jersey-based Family Resource Network, a comprehensive family-focused umbrella organization designed to meet the growing need of community-based programs and services for individuals with disabilities and their families. As New Jersey's leading provider of family support services, the Network served 28,955 individuals in 2011 through its four statewide affiliate organizations: Autism Family Services of NJ, Caregivers of NJ, Epilepsy Foundation of NJ and Family Support Center of NJ.
Ideally positioned to serve as advocates for the disability population in New Jersey, the Network launched the Get FIT Initiative in 2008 to make sure the disability community also had opportunities to lead a healthy lifestyle.
“Get FIT does not just address a public health issue, it addresses a civil rights issue,” says Eric Joice, executive director of the Family Resource Network. “If you want to exercise at the local gym, you should be able to without facing the stereotypical barriers placed upon disability status.”
Get FIT is funded in part by the New Jersey Council on Developmental Disabilities, with FIT being an acronym for Fitness, Integration and Training. Each Get FIT program is specifically tailored so it can serve any community in any setting.
Not only does it provide physical activity and nutrition education programs for the disability community within different settings such as the gym, community recreational centers, the home and even on the boardwalk, it also emphasizes the importance of increasing the efficacy of the health promotion field by training current health and exercise science students at local universities.
For example, at the Get FIT @ Rowan University program in Gloucester County, N.J., Get FIT best practices have been integrated into the Health and Exercise Science curriculum. That has led to approximately 245 students being trained to work with individuals with special needs in fitness and nutrition. Rowan University continues to be an integral partner to the Get FIT movement, displaying how such programs can ultimately transform the culture of an entire department.
Acknowledging the heightened risk of obesity within the disability community, Get FIT tailors its programs to meet the unique and individual needs of each of its clients in a sustainable manner. The collection of data within each Get FIT program allows for the surveillance of health status within the disability population and the adoption of evidence-based practices.
The exponential growth of the Get FIT movement over the past four years resulted in the recent launch of Get FIT @ Texas, a partnership between the Family Resource Network, Epilepsy Foundation affiliates in Texas and the Texas Council on Developmental Disabilities. Additional states also are currently discussing the possibilities of launching Get FIT programs so all individuals, irrespective of ability, can exercise their right to access a healthy lifestyle.
The Family Resource Network is looking forward to the expansion of Get FIT at the national level, while continuing to explore the possibilities of new Get FIT programs within New Jersey.
For more information on Get FIT please visit; www.getfitnj.org or Like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/getfitnj.
If you are interested in becoming involved in Get FIT or in launching a Get FIT program, please contact Adeola.