Local Dietician Helps Richmond Fight Obesity Epidemic

News Report, Karina Guadalupe

Jan Schilling has been working as a registered dietitian for over 40 years, during which time she has seen the percentage of Americans who are overweight and suffer from high cholesterol skyrocket from 10 percent to 67 percent. The number is even more startling – 70 percent – for African Americans and Latinos living in limited-income communities.

The obesity and food-related health epidemic gripping communities like Richmond is why Schilling now preaches the benefits of “food, fitness and friends,” the official mantra of her non-profit organization Weigh of Life. The main goal of the organization is to help anyone looking to change their lifestyle and eating habits, and work with families to improve and maintain good health by providing exercise classes, nutrition classes and social support groups.

Guadalupe Matta, Manuela Molina and Teresa Rodriguez are all mothers and friends in Richmond, who say they joined the program because they are getting older and want to be healthier. Teresa is there because she wasn’t very active and needed the exercise. She heard about Weigh of Life from a friend and told Manuela, who told Guadalupe. Now, all three women go to the program together.

“We’ve been learning about nutrition because honestly I didn’t know, and the classes they have teach us,” says Matta. “I never looked at the nutrition labels (on food products) or thought about them [but] now I do. Everything we learn here we take back and use it with our families because we want them to be healthy, too. We don’t eat as much fat or deep fried stuff anymore.”

Their kids and grandkids go too, and take advantage of the free daycare offered by Weigh of Life. Although the women aren’t able to attend every single nutrition class, they manage to keep each other up to date.

“I haven’t been able to come [to nutrition classes] but Manuela tells me about it” says Rodriguez. “Before, my daughters and I didn’t really eat fruits and vegetables. Now we do.”

Weigh of Life has been offering their classes at Veterans Hall on 23rd Street in downtown Richmond. Today, thanks to a grant from Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL), they also offer some classes at the Nevin Community Center, located at 598 Nevin Avenue.

Consuelo Nunez is a group leader at the Nevin Center, and took notice of the exercise classes that Schilling was organizing there. About to turn 48 and feeling out of shape, Nunez decided to join the program. Nunez, who is planning a trip to Las Vegas for her birthday, says she wants to be able to enjoy herself and dance without being “winded after two songs.”

“When I started seeing all the ladies of different ages working out and exercising, I said to myself, you know what, I wanna get in shape too and I wanna get healthy this year. I’m tired of saying next year, next year, next year. The [people in the class] were all sweating but they were still smiling, so I started coming and working out.”

Gabriela Cortez is overweight and decided to join the program to improve her health.

“You get to be with other people and you get ideas of how to lose weight,” says Cortez. “I also like that it’s family friendly. You get to meet other people from the neighborhood that you otherwise wouldn’t have met. You get to know your neighbors. You also become a good role model for your kids because if they see that you’re being lazy they’re not going to do anything. The community has really come together inside and you know who you’re working out with.”

Since the program started, 60 percent of their members have lost weight and the 25 percent who didn’t need to lose weight to begin with have maintained a healthy lifestyle.

Gloria Garcia, a mother and grandmother, was introduced to the program 7 months ago through a neighborhood friend. At first, Gloria was skeptical of the program and didn’t think too much of it, since according to her, she’s very “lazy to exercise.” Now, Gloria attends classes 3 days per week for 2 hours per day and has lost 28 pounds. According to her, exercise helps, but it is learning how to eat healthy that is the most important part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Gloria encourages everyone to join Weigh of Life and has one thing to say: “Try it!”

Although Weigh of Life is located in Richmond, you don’t have to be a Richmond resident to participate. The group currently has members from Pinole, Hercules and Concord.

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