Skip to Content

Two Generations Come Together to Fight Obesity Leader Peter Holtgrave serves as national coordinator of CATCH Healthy Habits, a nonprofit program that trains adults 50 and older to teach young people to lead healthy lives. Holtgrave shares CATCH’s story in an article he wrote exclusively for The Inside Track.

Lynn Hilfiger knows the personal cost of obesity.

At 64, Hilfiger weighed 323 pounds and was bedridden. He spent years struggling with weight gain, crippling osteoarthritis and hypertension. But after a change in lifestyle and diet, successful hip replacement surgery and making a commitment to take better care of himself, Hilfiger turned his life around.

Now the California resident serves as a role model to young people, teaching them how to lead a healthy life. Hilfiger is a volunteer with CATCH Healthy Habits, a national evidence-based intergenerational program that encourages healthy eating and active living in after-school and summer camp environments.

“We’re all here to help one another,” Hilfiger says of CATCH. “It’s not ‘me-me-me…’ it’s ‘us-us-us.’ Our nation needs more programs like this.”

CATCH is a program of OASIS, a national nonprofit organization that promotes successful aging for adults age 50 and over. The program is based on the Coordinated Approach to Child Health (get it: CATCH), a nationally recognized physical activity and nutrition curriculum created by research teams from the University of California at San Diego, University of Minnesota, Tulane University and the University of Texas.

CATCH works to combat obesity by engaging adults, age 50 and older, as mentors and program facilitators who teach healthy lifelong habits to kids in grades K to 5 through a series of hourly sessions. Kids and their mentors participate in hands-on nutrition lessons, prepare and consume nutritious snacks and engage in a series of physical activities in the form of fun, team-based games.

The program has been shown to improve diet and physical activity habits of both the adult and child participants, including Evelyn Gillespie, a retired physical education teacher who volunteers with CATCH Healthy Habits in St. Louis.

“It benefits me. It helps me mentally,” she says. “And I get a joy out of seeing the kids be active.  I look forward to this because I’m reaching children.”

Gillespie sees health benefits from CATCH, too. “We need more activity in our lives no matter how old we are,” Gillespie says.

At the close of 2011, more than 350 adults age 50 and older have volunteered with CATCH, and more than 98 percent continue to support the program. Close to 1,600 children have participated, a majority of who reside in underserved communities at high risk of obesity. Preliminary evaluations indicate that CATCH Healthy Habits is making significant progress toward influencing health knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors among children and adults.

Supported by a grant from WellPoint Foundation, CATCH is now active in 18 cities across 14 states, with a goal of engaging 5,000 participants by the end of 2012. More than 200 national, regional and local partners have come together to help deliver the program, including national youth-serving organizations  such as the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, YMCA and Girls Scouts of America, public and parochial schools, government agencies, senior centers, libraries, universities and corporations.

“We are dedicated to engaging mature adults in meaningful community service,” said Marcia Kerz, president of the OASIS Institute. “CATCH Healthy Habits not only helps to combat the serious issue of obesity, but also benefits the adults who volunteer. Research shows that volunteers live longer, healthier lives than those who do not volunteer. And as they promote healthy habits for kids and for themselves, they also experience the rewards of meaningful community service.”