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Supporting healthy lifestyles

Speaking for the camera: Session facilitator Nathan Richardson helps Isaiah Palmer, 10, learn to speak in front of a camera at a youth advocacy forum on Friday that focused on childhood obesity.

About 80 young people from Suffolk and surrounding areas spent Friday learning about how they can prevent childhood obesity.

The teens and pre-teens were spending the day participating in the program “Health and Fitness: A Youth Perspective” at Temple Beth-El on Bridge Road. The event was part of a statewide discussion series on childhood obesity sponsored by the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy.

“I am so happy and elated about how well this is going,” said Costellar Ledbetter, the local coordinator of the event. “The kids have been very interactive. They were able to get into groups and come up with ideas for advocacy for nutrition in schools.”

The forum focused not only on how those in attendance could improve their own health and nutritional intake, but also on how they could advocate for more comprehensive changes.

“I wanted to come just to be a youth advocate for childhood obesity and raise the level of awareness,” said Britney Johnson, 16. “This issue is very important, and it’s becoming epidemic.”

Johnson, along with Tyron Riddick, was a co-facilitator of the youth forum.

Students who attended the event received a healthy breakfast and lunch, with water to drink, started with an exercise session and ended with a field trip to a skating rink.

“We do walk the walk,” said Seneca Bock, regional organizer for the project.

During one session, Bock told the students her own story of eating unhealthy foods during college.

“I was poisoning my body,” she said as she told them stories of drinking sodas at 3 a.m. “That wasn’t healthy for me.”

Attendee Isaiah Palmer, 10, said he did not realize how bad the childhood obesity problem is until he attended the event.

“I enjoyed it, because I learned new things about childhood obesity,” Isaiah said. “I didn’t know it was that serious. Don’t take it lightly.”

Isaiah said young people could help turn the tide on obesity by “eating more healthy food, and encouraging your peers to eat more healthy food.”

Ledbetter said the event went well.

“I think they’re learning a lot, and having fun too,” she said. “You can be surprised about what kids can say, because they make a lot of sense. Sometimes, we adults think we know it all.”

Britney Johnson was ready after the forum to get started on advocacy.

“I want to get out there and make a difference,” Johnson said. “It’s the youth’s voice that needs to be heard.”