Athletes For Life helps combat obesity, heart disease

Adults in Athletes For Life, a program to promote healthy behaviors in parents and their children, learn new exercises at the South Mountain Community Center. (Photo by Elena Mendoza/Cronkite News)

The Athletes For Life program is funded by the American Heart Association. The program promotes having a nutritious lifestyle while incorporating exercise. (Photo by Elena Mendoza/Cronkite News)

Aaron Alonso, 9, learns to throw a football with a better aim in the Athletes For Life program.
(Photo by Elena Mendoza/Cronkite News)

Noe Crespo has made it his ‘lifetime mission’ to give back to low-income communities by leading people to a healthier lifestyle.

Crespo, a nutrition professor at Arizona State University, oversees the
Athletes for Life research program for families. It focuses on exercise and nutrition education to fight childhood and adult obesity, which can lead to diabetes and heart disease.

“It’s important for families to have access to programs that promote healthy lifestyles,” Crespo said. “We know that among under-served families, minority populations and low income families there is a disproportional burden of chronic disease.”

“I’m passionate about it because I, also, kind of grew up in under-served circumstances,” he said.

The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said nearly one in three Arizonans are overweight, triple the amount who were overweight 25 years ago.

Athletes For Life is designed to turn around that alarming trend by involving parents and their children, ages 6 to 11, in exercise and nutrition programs.

“At a young age, that’s when the habits start forming,” said Justin Smith, an ASU research assistant. “Getting them exposed to things that they weren’t exposed to before will hopefully influence their future decisions.”

Crespo said the program could not be done without the hard work of students from ASU’s School of Nutrition and Health Promotion who serve as mentors for the participants.

“It’s really nice to be able to see all the kids change,” said Samantha Flatland, a research assistant. “It’s only a 12-week program, but you can really see a difference between the beginning and the end.”

Researchers gather data before and after the program to determine whether it is successful.

Nine-year-old Aaron Alonso, taking a break from a basketball game, said he likes the program “because it makes me feel good and I’m active instead of being in the house.”

Athletes For Life will start again in the fall and is open to all families. For more information on how to sign-up, contact [email protected] or call (623)738-6020.