For 8-year-old Grant Willson, cutting down trips to McDonalds to just one a week last year was a big step in the right direction.
Adding fruit to his diet was another.
Grant, now 9 years old, made those changes with the help of a mentor -- Greg Adamson, a physical education major at Winthrop University.
The two were paired up through Zest Quest, a school-based wellness program in South Carolina. Zest Quest includes mentoring for children at risk of obesity and a health education program for all students at Lesslie Elementary School.
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Grant was one of the first children to go through the mentoring part of Zest Quest at Winthrop. Now, the local program is ready to expand and pair five to 10 students with mentors.
"As you mentor them, you're hoping to become friends with them and hopefully give them a little nutrition advice, a little healthy living advice," Adamson said.
"The kid really just needs to be open to work. You've got to keep them moving."
Mentors meet with their students three times a week for about an hour each time. They will be paired up until the end of the school year.
Parents must provide transportation to and from Winthrop.
Participants can do anything from swimming to baseball and from basketball to light weight lifting. They have access to the new Lois Rhame West Center at Winthrop.
"For Grant, it meant a lot saying he had a big buddy, or a big brother, from Winthrop," his mom, Karen Willson said. "He was real excited about that. He could tell his friends that he got to hang around an older guy from Winthrop who worked out with him."
In addition to the mentoring part of Zest Quest, Winthrop has partnered with Lesslie Elementary School to place a Zest Quest wellness coach in the school.
Joni Marr meets with every class for 30 minutes once a week. She teaches them healthy eating and exercise habits and gets them moving around.
She also offers activities before school.
Marr said it is easy to see the need for programs like Zest Quest, pointing out the high percentage of children who are overweight or obese.
"I think it's now or never," she said. "It's to the point where we have to do something."
WANT TO SIGN UP FOR ZEST QUEST?
To sign your child up for the Zest Quest mentoring program, contact Janet Wojcik, director of research and assessment for Zest Quest, at 323-4687 or firstname.lastname@example.org by the end of the month.
Children should be in third through eighth grades and at risk for obesity. Parents must provide transportation to and from Winthrop. A doctor's permission will be required to participate.
For more information, visit http://coe.winthrop.edu/zestquest/