“WOW” Program Looks to Stem Childhood Obesity 

There’s a new program in response to childhood obesity.

It’s designed to get kids, and parents, involved in building a healthier, more active lifestyle.

UMaine and Eastern Maine Medical Center have teamed up to provide it.

For 11-year-old Nicholas Blethen, eating right and exercising used to be a challenge.

“I drank quite a bit of soda. I sat in front of the TV quite a bit,” said Blathen.

That is until he started a program called The Way to Optimal Weight, or WOW. Now he’s lost 20 pounds.

“Many of our children who come already have abnormal sugars, abnormal cholesterol, high blood pressure, so we’re working to ameliorate those problems as well as improving weight. And those two tend to go together,” said Valeria O’Hara, a pediatrician with Eastern Maine Medical Center.

It’s all about changing behaviors that lead to obesity.

“We learn about what you shouldn’t eat, what you should eat, and how to stay active. And I think the whole process is really cool,” said Jeremiah Coon, a “WOW” participant.

All the kids in the WOW program participate in an instructional component, where they learn about things like eating right and not spending too much time in front of the TV. Then they come here to the rec center, where they do everything from rowing to racquetball.

Trainer Miles Gagnon says they’ve made huge strides.

“Seeing these kids coming here right off and they’re super shy, and then they come in and know your name, they’re like ‘what are we gonna do today? I wanna play racquetball today.’ They know what they want to do. They know what it’s going to take to get that next level,” said Gagnon.

And it’s not just kids that are making changes.

“We used to go out and we’d have pizza once a week and then we’d go to McDonald’s a couple times a week. And all that has stopped,” said parent Larry Coon.

And the results are pretty clear.

“Almost 70 percent of our children have an improvement in BMI. But the other part that we love and we’ve seen over the last five years is an improvement in self-esteem and how they feel about themselves,” said O’Hara.

Now, for these once-unhealthy kids, the sky’s the limit.

“My goals for the future are that I can run faster, be stronger,” said Blathen.