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The Picture of Health

With Fit for a Kid, her Los Angeles–based fitness and nutrition business, Naima Woodson is aiming for a hefty reduction in childhood obesity

THE SORRY STATE of American children’s health has become, by now, something close to a national crisis, with obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular problems evident even, in some cases, in very young children — and rates are higher among minority kids.

Aiming to ameliorate those troubles while instilling in children a lifelong love of good nutrition and physical fitness is Naima Woodson, the founder of Los Angeles–based Fit for a Kid. Woodson’s company brings a range of exercise and nutrition programs to preschools, private institutions, child-care facilities and individual homes throughout the L.A. area for “concerned educators and parents seeking to engage their children in meaningful physical activities,” as Woodson puts it.

Woodson, 34, a certified children’s fitness and nutrition consultant, had long worked part-time as an independent trainer and nutritionist. Her goal had been to launch Fit for a Kid this summer, but the sour national economy caused a change in plans. In March 2011, “I was laid off from my full-time job of nine years,” she says. “That pushed me into self-employment a little earlier than expected.”

Now partnering with 15 schools in Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties, Fit for a Kid offers one 45-minute session per week, covering such topics as gross motor skills, good nutrition and basic physiology. “For reinforcement in the classroom and at home, educators and parents are provided a weekly newsletter outlining the topics covered,” Woodson says. “Unlike formal extracurricular sports and children’s gyms, Fit for a Kid benefits parents with the convenience of having their child participate in our program while they’re at school.”

Those schools, meanwhile, can incorporate the topics covered by Fit for a Kid into their daily curriculum, giving the good-health message extra resonance in impressionable young minds. It’s an important cause — not to mention, you might say, a healthy business model as well.

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Your timing seems excellent, what with the current national focus on childhood obesity. When did you decide to pursue this as a career?
I’ve had a lifelong love of fitness, nutrition and health. Always having had aspirations to become an entrepreneur, I knew that in order to take that risk, I’d have to be doing something that I’m extremely passionate about. Having two children of my own, ages 10 and 5, I understand the obstacles many parents face with instilling healthy habits in their children. A combination of my love for health, fitness, children, education, an entrepreneurship that inspired me to create this company. The timing couldn’t be more perfect, with society’s increased awareness of the obesity epidemic, and knowing that it starts with the education of our youth.

Are you the entire company? Do you handle both the nutrition and fitness sides of the business?
I run the operations of the company, and I teach many of the classes myself. I contract youth fitness instructors to help part-time as needed with instructing the classes. I created a curriculum, which we follow, and we all use the same equipment and props, which include a wide variety of things to keep it fun and interesting for the children — balls, hula hoops, potato sacks, fruit-and-veggie beanbags, balance beams, etc. I cover both the physical-fitness and the nutrition sides of the curriculum.

Have you gotten any resistance from parents or educators? Everyone’s concerned about kids’ health, but does anyone give you any “I know how to raise my kids, thank you” blowback?
We have not received any resistance at all from educators or parents. Everyone is onboard! I think the media attention that Michelle Obama has brought to the childhood-obesity epidemic has helped bring increased awareness to the need for the types of programs we offer.

What are your plans for expansion? L.A. would seem to offer you an enormous market, but your business model is quite scalable regardless of location.
Our service is mobile; we currently serve Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties. We started out marketing to preschools, private schools and community recreation centers. We quickly found that private families needed our help too! We added private personal training and nutrition counseling for families to the services that we provide. Our plans for expansion over the next couple of years include a physical location — a Fit for a Kid Studio — where children of all ages can participate in fitness, health and nutrition classes, recreation and workshops. Our long-term plans include franchising.

The health problems Fit for a Kid addresses are more pronounced in minority communities, but presumably you cater to children of all backgrounds, correct?
We strive to reach all children in the counties we serve. Programs like ours are an urgent need in every community, and we market as such. Obesity has indeed had a more profound effect among minority populations. As a minority myself, I understand how to educate and support minority children and families who struggle with obesity. Aside from our work in the schools we serve, we strive to have an additional presence through community centers, health fairs and churches, which can be particularly effective in waging the war against childhood obesity in communities of color.

It’s so difficult to get people, even kids, to change their daily habits for the better. Are you optimistic about your prospects?
We are making strides in combating childhood obesity, but there’s so much more work to do. Our goal is to bring awareness to the fact that this is a community effort. People are looking to place blame on one source. Is it the parents’ fault? The schools’ fault? The government’s fault? The media’s fault? Children’s fitness is the responsibility of all who are involved with children. Schools and child-care [organizations] have a big responsibility, children spend a large part of their day in these facilities. And obviously, what parents instill in their children at home is of equal importance. It is extremely hard for people to change daily behaviors, which is why reaching children at ages when they are still creating their habits — and developing their taste buds — is so important. •