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How the YMCA of Greater Nashua is helping youth live healthier lives through its Prescribe the Y program.

For 13 years, the YMCA of Greater Nashua, with multiple locations in New Hampshire, has been paving the way for a healthier future for the youth in the community through its Prescribe the Y program. 

The program came about through a partnership between local pediatricians and the Y who worked together to create an offering that would help improve rates of childhood obesity in the area.

“Using the Y’s healthy living resources and facilities, pediatricians refer their patients in the 85th to 95th percentile to the totally free program,” said Kimberly Adie, the director of healthy living at the Greater Nashua YMCA. “Hosting it at the Y allows participants to take the program in a fun, inviting and supportive atmosphere that avoids the ‘white coat syndrome’ that can so often take over in medical settings.”

The program runs for 10 weeks with families attending once per week. The participants are split into groups by age — six- to nine-year-olds and 10- to 13-year-olds. Each 90-minute lesson starts with nutrition where participants engage in a discussion about a nutrition topic and do some activities to drive the information home. Nutrition topics include MyPlate, fruits and vegetables, dairy, protein, whole grains, sugary beverages, fats in fast food, and label reading and meal planning.

Pre-pandemic participants would have a taste test for the five food groups. Now, families take home single-serving packages of items to try on their own. The second half of class is focused on physical activity. 

“The younger group engages in games that get them moving, working on teambuilding and coordination, and most importantly, having fun,” said Adie. “The older group learns how to use our cardio and Cybex equipment. They receive a wrist band at the end of the 10 weeks that lets our fitness staff know they have passed Prescribe the Y and are OK to use equipment on the fitness floor.”

The Greater Nashua Y has helped over 800 families learn how good nutrition and physical activity can impact their lives. The benefits go beyond improving overall health and reducing rates of chronic disease in their community. Children are seeing a boost in their self-esteem and getting stronger physically and mentally. 

According to Adie, the feedback from evaluations has been great. They see kids wanting to go grocery shopping, keeping their family accountable with meal choices, getting outside more, joining sports teams, doing better in school and more. 

“This is not a weight loss program,” said Adie. “We focus on making small, healthy changes that can have a big and lasting impact. Many of these families would never have a chance to come to the Y without this program. They are provided with a temporary pass to use the facility during the 10 weeks, and upon graduation are given a full-year membership. The membership is for the entire family so they can follow through with what they’ve learned in class together. We also find many of them take advantage of other programs such as swim lessons, dance, art and camp.” 

The Unique Features

  • Participants must be referred to the program by their provider. This has given the Y a link to more than 100 different health care professionals over the years.
  • The program engages the entire family. A child may be the one referred but a parent/guardian is required to participate as well and any siblings are welcome to attend class, too.
  • A yearlong family membership is awarded at graduation.
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Taylor Brown

Taylor Brown is the assistant editor of Community Rec Magazine. She can be reached at taylor@peakemedia.com.

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