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Fit Youth Program Helps Young Boy to Gain Confidence, Encourage Others

Growing up on a farm in Auburn Township, Alexander Maloney is a kid with a love for the outdoors. He likes to go running with his dad, has a motocross track in his front yard, enjoys building forts, goes off-roading with his family and plays basketball.

But, during the Northeast Ohio winters, the 11-year-old spends a lot of time indoors. With that comes boredom, which means passing the time eating junk food that’s in the house.

In November 2017, Alexander had a yearly check-up with his pediatrician that revealed he had high cholesterol. “That was a wake-up call,” recalls his mom, Machelle Maloney. “I have high cholesterol, too. Our house was filled with junk food and pop. After seeing Alexander’s test results, I knew we had to do something to make changes in our household.”

Alexander’s pediatrician recommended programs that would benefit his health. After doing research and making calls, Mrs. Maloney decided that Fit Youth, a wellness program offered by Cleveland Clinic Children’s, seemed to be the best fit.

“The great thing about Fit Youth is that it’s a mindset-change program, not a weight-loss program. That will benefit Alexander, me and the rest of our family for life; it’s not just a quick fix,” says Mrs. Maloney.

In January 2018, Alexander and his mom joined the Fit Youth program at Cleveland Clinic Beachwood Family Health and Surgery Center. After the first class, Alexander said, “Mom, it’s nice to be around people that are just like me. It’s nice to know that I’m not alone.” Those words brought tears to Mrs. Maloney’s eyes. She didn’t realize how much the program would impact Alexander — and how quickly it would do so.

“We educated the rest of our family and incorporated what we learned at home. We changed our way of life by making healthy choices, and it is all due to Fit Youth.”

Alexander flourished at Fit Youth. “Alexander is amazing. He was always on the edge of his seat listening and taking in every word,” says Hilary Alexander, MEd, LPCC-S, clinical mental health counselor at Cleveland Clinic Beachwood. “Alexander was open and willing to learn, which encouraged the others to actively participate. His initiative was a great benefit to his groupmates.”

An active kid, being cooped up during the winter was the hardest for Alexander. Emily Billak, MEd, exercise physiologist at Cleveland Clinic Beachwood, teaches the kids and parents aerobic activities that can be done indoors and outside. “We work on new aerobic activities every week, making them fun so it becomes a part of their lives,” says Ms. Billak.

Learning that exercise is an important part in his new way of living, Alexander shoveled snow off of his basketball court in the winter so he could get his exercise in. “I love basketball and didn’t want anything to get in the way of me getting out there to play and exercise,” says Alexander.

“We want the kids and parents to make healthy choices for the rest of their lives. It is not easy to navigate foods in school, home and social situations; but I aim to give them tools that will help them. They learn about portion control and that it is okay to eat fun foods sometimes, but they have to be aware and mindful of what is on their plates,” explains Jennifer Hyland, RD, CSP, LD, pediatric nutritionist at Cleveland Clinic Beachwood.

Fit Youth really taught Alexander a different way of life in all aspects of the program. The lessons he learned weren’t just forgotten after class; he truly integrated what he learned into his daily life. When Alexander goes grocery shopping with his mom, he reads the labels and picks the healthier option. “I’ve even tried new foods that I didn’t think I would like but did. It wasn’t hard, I just tried it and saw that it tasted good and it’s good for you,” says Alexander.

Since joining Fit Youth, Alexander’s attitude is more positive and his self-confidence has skyrocketed. Every single one of caregivers at Fit Youth are amazed at how Alexander has become invested in learning and applying what he learned. But he didn’t do it alone, his mom was there encouraging him every step of the way.

“Together, Alexander and I make a pretty good team. We educated the rest of our family and incorporated what we learned at home,” says Mrs. Maloney. “We changed our way of life by making healthy choices, and it is all due to Fit Youth.”

Related Institutes: Cleveland Clinic Children's , Endocrinology & Metabolism Institute
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