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Fun and Fit

• Union Local Wellness Program teaches girls nutrition, exercise

October 1, 2011
By GLYNIS VALENTI - Staff Writer ( , Times Leader

BELMONT-The music is a mixture of Latin and hip-hop. Some of the moves would fit right in at a dance club. High school girls in comfortable clothes follow Maranda Photiou's cues left, right, up and back. This is Zumba, a worldwide fitness phenomenon, at an after school wellness program sponsored by the Belmont County Medical Society Alliance.

With child obesity statistics tripling since the 1980's, and those in Ohio's Appalachian counties higher still, health agencies are developing activities and education to get kids to make better choices on their own.

The Zumba program at Union Local High School runs three days per week through October 20 and is open to UL high school girls and school employees. The exercise portion is taught by Photiou, a licensed Zumba instructor, who says she has dropped several pant sizes since starting Zumba last year. The education comes in the form of 15 minute lectures once a week by area doctors about nutrition, exercise and how food affects the body.

Article Photos

Zumba instructor Maranda Photiou, left, has the Union Local class doing combinations of Latin, hip-hop and aerobics moves.

After each session there is a drawing for gift cards to Starbucks, iTunes and sports stores. At the end of the program, girls who have attended all twelve sessions will receive passes to Zumba classes and be put into a drawing for a two-month membership to Curves in Barnesville. During the first week twelve girls and eight adults have attended the classes.

Chinta Kasiraja, program coordinator for BCMSA, says this is the third year for school programming. The first two programs were for middle school students at Union Local and Barnesville and were more structured, focusing on body mass index, calories and miles walked. She says they decided to design a voluntary after school program that would be more flexible for high school girls. A $2000 grant from the American Cancer Society/Virginia Gassaway Trust made it possible.

Because of its fast-paced music and dance-like choreography, Zumba has grown since its informal beginning in the 1990's. Colombian aerobics instructor Alberto "Beto" Perez forgot his routine music for his classes one day and plugged in a mix of his personal favorites: salsa, cha-cha, etc. His class loved it, and now 12 million people in 125 countries are in Zumba class every week. It's a deceptive form of fitness because of the dancing and "fun" aspects, but people are dropping pounds and inches to the tune of 400 to 600 calories an hour.

The Belmont County Medical Society Alliance is a group of doctors and health practitioners affiliated with all of the area hospitals, but who focus efforts like the school wellness programs in Belmont County. For more information on BCMSA contact Kasiraja at (304) 281-7011.

Photiou also teaches Zumba open to the public at the Belmont Hills Country Club on Tuesday and Saturday at 10 a.m. and Thursday at 6 p.m. and at the Shadyside Community Center on Wednesday and Sunday at 7 p.m.



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