When Sofia de la Peña was in the sixth grade she started Fit Kids Day, an event “by kids, for kids,” that promotes fitness and healthy eating. It attracted more than 30 sponsors and 500 participants to its inaugural event in Pinecrest in 2012 — numbers that doubled in 2013.
Sofia and 25 other student ambassadors will host the third annual event at Evelyn Greer Park this Saturday, but they have also expanded their reach into Key Biscayne, which will have its first Fit Kids Day on May 24 at Village Green Park during National Health and Fitness Month.
“A lot of kids think exercise isn’t fun and healthy food isn’t yummy,” said Sofia, 14 and now a freshman at Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart in Coconut Grove. “I wanted to speak out about obesity being a big problem in our community and convince kids to give sports and healthy foods a chance.”
Childhood obesity is considered a national health crisis, with one in three children 2-19 being overweight, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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Fit Kids Day events host not only a smorgasbord of nutritious foods, but also physical activities like Zumba, yoga, martial arts, basketball, tennis, lacrosse, soccer and volleyball, Sofia’s personal favorite.
Nutritionists from Baptist Hospital will hold informational sessions on healthy eating and local chefs will perform cooking demonstrations.
Both events are free and open to the public, with sponsors including local hospitals and wellness centers, the University of Miami and the Florida Department of Health.
The student ambassadors, ages 8-14 from schools across Miami-Dade, have planned the events since January, mapping out the activities, deciding on food and music, and designing a logo that incorporates peace, health and happiness symbols.
“The idea is for kids to get other kids excited about exercise and healthy foods,” said Pinecrest Mayor Cindy Lerner, who was the first to latch onto the idea when Sofia proposed Fit Kids Day in 2011.
Lerner said the initiative meshed well with the village’s adoption of First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” program, part of the White House Task Force on childhood obesity.
“Now we have public and private schools involved, and a goal to particularly attract those kids who aren’t already involved in sports or outdoor activities,” Lerner said. “Every city has parks and recreational facilities. This is a great way for cities to engage the community and provide resources.”
According to Alicia Vargas, advisory board chair for Fit Kids Day, there are talks to host future events in Aventura, Tampa and Jacksonville.
“Fit Kids Day will introduce kids to sports and foods they may not have ever been encouraged to try before,” Sofia said. “I hope it spreads to wherever kids need it to be.”