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New class helps people with disabilities combat obesity

Athens, Ga. – The refrain from health professionals around the world remains unchanged: In order to win the war against obesity, Americans must become more active.
For people with physical or developmental disabilities, finding ways to be active isn’t always as easy as joining a gym or taking up a new sport; they may require instruction and guidance to create a fitness plan tailored to their needs and abilities. People with disabilities, especially those with limited mobility, are nearly 60 percent more likely to become overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Unfortunately, few programs exist to help those with disabilities get the exercise they need.
But students at the University of Georgia provided just such a service this summer thanks to a new class developed by Kevin McCully, a professor of kinesiology in the College of Education. The class pairs preclinical UGA students with disabled participants recruited from the local community.
The students get hands-on experience working with their partners, while participants from the community are taught new and innovative ways to get more exercise.
As part of the UGA Obesity Initiative, McCully said he wanted to design a class that would help reduce obesity and improve the health and wellness of people in the community.
“We focus particularly on people who have special needs because they need more help,” he said.
Students in this summer’s class guided their disabled partners through activities like wheelchair crunches, stretching exercises, weight lifting and aerobics. They monitored their progress and recorded the data throughout the semester.
Workout routines were tailored to fit each disabled partner’s individual abilities.
Athens resident Joseph Weaver was born legally blind, but he and his service dog Moose went for long warm-up walks before beginning a circuit training workout routine designed to elevate his heart rate and strengthen his muscles.
“The class has been tremendous,” said Weaver, who has lost nearly 10 pounds since joining.  “One of the problems I used to have was with self-esteem, and I think that’s probably pretty common with a lot of people with disabilities. After losing the weight and starting to tone up, I’m actually feeling better and better about myself.”
Mark Christensen, a rehab assistant for the UGA Athletic Association, must use a wheelchair to move around, but he and his student partner devised a program of stretches, abdominal crunches, and aerobics that allow him to incorporate his wheelchair into his daily workout.
“This program has been really great,” Christensen said. “I was a little overweight for my height, and they taught me how to get it down.”
This inaugural class met to gauge the levels of interest among community members and the student population. After just a few weeks, all the participants have expressed a desire to rejoin in the fall, and the first round of students left with some invaluable experiences.
“I’ve always been shadowing or watching other people work with patients,” said Chelsea Metzger, a biology major who one day hopes to be an anesthesiologist. “This class was the
perfect opportunity for me to actually work with someone, ask questions and make a plan to help them have a better life.”
Ultimately, McCully hopes his class can one day serve as a model for universities across the U.S.
“I think that this class can serve as a springboard,” he said. “The class has been very enjoyable, but I still view this as step one; there are a lot of things we can still do.”
For more information on the class and the results seen in participants, watch a video at