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The First Gym for Kids Opens to Tackle Childhood Obesity

Body By Brandy has the first children's gym in Boston. It is being called a big step in fighting childhood obesity. And it all started with the vision to change a neighborhood.

Roxbury is an area in the south of Boston, Massachusetts with mainly African-American residents. Brandy Cruthird grew up here. She returned to her hometown after college and decided to start the first fitness center in this neighborhood.

"March 11,1996. I took two studio apartments and I turned them into a gym,” says Brandy. “I just wanted people in the community to have a place where they can work out."

Brandy was a high school All-American star in basketball in this neighborhood and won a college scholarship. Years later, she returned to open the Body By Brandy fitness center.

Now she has a scaled-down version for kids. "Straight training equipment. So it is not my size. It's their size. It is easy for them to use."

It is the brand new Body By Brandy 4 Kidz. It opened in May, a first-of-its kind nonprofit gym specifically for kids. The 560 square meters 4 Kidz facility is located in the main Body By Brandy fitness center.

The gym is designed to make fitness fun. It features a rock climbing wall, a boxing program, game bikes, dance revolution pads, cardiovascular equipment, a sport wall and a health and science computer lab.

"When kids come in, they check into the computer,” Brandy explains. “So we have a system to track your body fat, weight, as well as when they started. The information we get was sent back to the health centers."

Some qualified children can actually use the facility for free. "How the kids are referred here? They are clinically diagnosed by Children's Hospital and seven affiliated health centers. These are kids who are at risk or are already obese."

Cruthird's decision to launch the 4 Kidz program is a response to a 300 percent increase in childhood obesity over the last three decades. Thirty one percent of teenagers between the ages of 10 and 17 in the U.S. are overweight. The problem is especially prevalent among lower-income African-American and Latino families.

"Without exercises, and of course, without eating properly, kids are definitely going to gain weight, not be healthy, and a lot of those high risk factors, like high blood pressure, diabetes, and hypertension," says Bobby Stevens, a trainer at the 4 Kidz program. Forty kids joined in the first month.

"Raya and Bob are 13, Joshua is only 9,” pointed out Bobby. “They are all referred by the Boston Children's Hospital to participate in the 4 Kidz program for free."

"I want to lose at least 30 more pounds [13.6 kilos],” Joshua tells us.

Raya chimes in, "Ten pounds [4.5 kilos]."

Bob Gonzalez is more ambitious. “Maybe about 80 or 100 pounds [36 to 45 kilos] I would like to lose.”

"Our challenge,” says Bobby Stevens, “is to get kids to lose weight, feel good about themselves, and be able to go out and be a witness and say ‘Hey, look at what I did,’ by being at this program."

The fun does help the children reach their goals. They have incentive to get on a game bike or the dance pad.

Brandy explains the system. "Put together the game bikes with the TVs. And kids can sit here, and play racing games, as well as getting in shape, and have a good time. You watch on the screen, you just click. So whether the child has any skills or not, this is the game they can have a lot of fun with."

It is already making a difference for some kids. Joshua has been coming to the center for only three weeks -- and has lost four pounds.

"We do until we reach our goal, says Joshua. “We can't stop or nothing. We reach our goal. That's what we care about. We don't care about nothing else."

"Good job,” says Brandy to her young customers. “We're going to work for 18 minutes and 30 seconds. Do you think you can beat me? All right, let me play you."