Promoting Health to Teens

by Theresa-Marie Wilson
Published in Coast News, July 12-18, 2012 
Tolosa Press 

      Backpacks are hung up, textbooks are closed and homework is a fading memory -- summer break is in midstream. One non-profit aiming to combat teen obesity is hoping a group of Arroyo Grande High School (AGHS) students will keep up with their studies while away from campus.

Operating under the umbrella of Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County
(CAPSLO), Project Teen Health (PTH) provides a childhood obesity prevention program at AGHS aiming to instill a lifetime of wellness among youth by encouraging healthy eating and exercise habits.

Two free after-school programs designed to keep students active have already shown success.
For the past two school years the organization has run three fitness boot camps a year. The boot camp is a six-week exercise and nutrition class. 

Participants workout with local fitness businesses such as CrossFit Five Cities, Yoga Village, The Edge, Kennedy Club Fitness and Equilibrium Fitness, all of whom donate their time to lead classes. In addition to exercise, students learn about healthy food choices through weekly presentations and food tastings.

“They have the opportunity to learn about healthy eating and active living,” said Jenna Miller, Project Teen Health coordinator. “In boot camp we serve probably about 150 students a year. We really want students to find some sort of niche of exercise that they really enjoy. We want them to share what they are learning with their families, friends and their community.”  

Before and after participating in boot camp, the Cal Poly Assessment Team or A-Team measures the students’ height, weight, body mass index (BMI), BIA (a method of body composition analysis, such as muscle mass and body fat ratios), waist circumference and blood pressure.  “We have seen great success with weights and measures and also with gaining confidence,” Miller said.

Sixteen-year-old Griselda Cardenas, who has lost 30 pounds, is one example.  “I was encouraged by a friend to join,” she said.  “I didn’t really want to join. She kind of pushed
me and that is why I am here. I love it. This is my fourth time doing it. The environment is
amazing. They really push you to reach your goal, but we also have fun while we do. That is

After working with the students during boot camp, Julian Varela, co-owner of Equilibrium Fitness in San Luis Obispo, decided to take the fitness challenge one step further. In collaboration with Project Teen Health Varela created the Fitness Youth Trainers (FYT) Revolution program, which teaches kids to become personal trainers while educating and
inspiring them to pursue a career in health, fitness and wellness.

“The latest reports on obesity say that by 2030, 43 percent of the U.S. population will be obese,” Varela said. “What that tells me is that we need some more people on the forefront trying to combat the issue. The ultimate goal is to try and create future fitness and health professionals.”

As part of the FYT Revolution certification process, students must get C.P.R. certified, participate in a 30-hour internship with personal trainers in the community and attend a three-day
workshop where they learn about nutrition, physiology, basic anatomy, well-being, how to teach a
fitness class and how to motivate others.  

Varela has helped guide about 20 youth instructors to completing the certification process.  Upon finishing the course, students will become youth personal trainers, peer nutrition educators, and eventually assist fitness instructors in boot camp as well as help with nutrition consulting.  

“It is good for me because I want to get into the physical fitness world for a job,” said Tyler Whalen, a fitness youth trainer. “I think that is the best job to have because your job is to be in shape. This has given me experience and will look good on my resume. It puts me ahead of everyone else. It is a really great, positive experience.”

Whalen will attend Cal Poly in the fall and study kinesiology.  

Project Teen Health also offers school-wide outreach events, classroom education, and one-on-one nutrition education through the Community Health Centers of the Central Coast AGHS clinic.

PTH has provided comprehensive sex education for youth aged 12 to 18 in San Luis Obispo County schools for more than 30 years. They run a teen pregnancy prevention task force. Additionally, they operate the Youth Advisory Group, which is a select group of teens from throughout the county who provide input and assist in decision making on prevention and outreach programs for the Education Department.  

For more information, visit or call 544-2484.

Project Teen Health is funded by Community Health Centers of the Central Coast,