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Published on April 07, 2015

One Spark project aims to build momentum against rising childhood obesity rates

By Erica Santillo, #IgniteMedia

A Jacksonville physician and her team hope to give children a little push toward being physically fit and healthy with their One Spark project, Momentum.

“Momentum is the force that allows something to grow stronger or faster as time passes,” pediatrician Deborah Weyer said. “That’s the point of the title ‘Momentum’ — to get it started and gain momentum.”

Started this year, Momentum is an after-school program that works with children ages 9 to 14 to combat and prevent childhood obesity and the diseases that accompany it. It’s a two-part program that involves a nutritional component and fitness program to accomplish its mission.

The program is taught by Weyer, other health care professionals and University of North Florida volunteers. Physician Bashyam Iyengar, who works with Weyer on the project, said the program is medically supervised by physicians, who design the curriculum. Weyer said that about 80 children participate in Momentum at Wilkinson Junior High School in Middleburg.

“Healthy kids will most likely grow up to be healthy adults,” said Weyer. “We need to change the culture in the community, and this is a place to start.”

Iyengar said the program coordinators go to the school where they work with the children in physical activities such as running, weight training, push-ups and squats.

Weyer said that the fitness component is modeled after Youth Combine, a Gainesville-based organization.

“The immediate goal is to educate students and kids to be healthier with their choices with food and exercise,” said Iyengar, who specializes in family medicine.

Weyer also said that children who are already overweight participate in a nutritional program that educates them on healthy eating, but anyone can participate in the fitness component.

According to, Florida ranks 35th for childhood obesity. About a third of the state’s children are either overweight or obese. The number has risen since 2003.

“I think obesity-related diseases are a threat to our country right now,” Weyer said. “Health care prevention treatment is one of the most important things right now.”

Weyer said the program will also use Kiwee, a computer application meant to help children track their weight and physical activity. The program would then report the child’s progress to a doctor.

Weyer said that Momentum not only works to benefit the participant’s health, but it also focuses on building self-esteem.

“Overweight kids are less likely to join after-school fitness programs,” she said. “An aspect of Momentum is to raise self-esteem, get them involved and give them a sense of belonging.”

For Momentum to gain momentum, Weyer is entering the project into One Spark this year. She says that she wants to make Momentum sustainable, and not a one-time thing.

“We want to try and get more community exposure, funding and connections so we can have a wider impact,” Weyer said.

Iyengar said that the goal is to get the word out about Momentum during One Spark. He said he wants it to become sustainable and keep rebuilding.

“We want to get the project out there and utilize funds and resources,” Iyengar said. “We want to see if there are others who are like-minded and form partnerships and build.”

Weyer said that she hopes to raise $25,000 to $50,000 during One Spark. She said it takes $6,000 for Momentum to participate in each school, and her team would like to add three more schools to its list: two in Duval County and one more in Clay County. She said they also would like to build Momentum parcourses in local parks, and that would cost about $5,000.

Momentum is creator project No. 21974. Iyengar believes that One Spark, like Momentum, is very grass roots, so entering this year seemed appropriate.

“It’s a good program to take things to the next level,” Iyengar said.

Weyer said the group is still in the implementation stage and is currently studying the program and collecting data results for the program.

“I would love for people to take a really good look at what this program is accomplishing,” she said. “I want people to look at this model and see what a great thing it is for the community.”

Weyer said that the St. Vincent’s Healthcare Foundation funds the program, and the foundation provided $20,000 this year. She also said a donor, whom she declined to name, on the foundation’s board gave the project $50,000. They also accept individual donations through the St. Vincent’s Foundation website. 

#IgniteMedia is an independent news bureau that was created, designed and is currently updated by student journalists from the University of North Florida.

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