Looking to get healthier? UNK program helps families exercise more, eat better

family fitness photo
Courtesy photo, Shutterstock

UNK Communications

KEARNEY – It’s that time again, when people start thinking about New Year’s resolutions and ways to improve their lives.

If exercising more and eating healthier are among your goals for 2019, there’s a University of Nebraska at Kearney program that can help.

Building Healthy Families is a 12-week program that works with participants to identify better food choices, modify unhealthy behaviors and increase physical activity. The free program, entering its 11th year, is designed for families with children ages 6-12 who have excess body weight.

Bryce Abbey
Bryce Abbey
Kate Heelan
Kate Heelan

“The education is really geared toward the child, but it’s healthy living for anyone,” said Kate Heelan, an exercise science professor at UNK and co-director of the Building Healthy Families program.

The goal, Heelan said, is to develop a plan that benefits the entire family by removing the barriers to healthy living.

“We know there’s success if the entire family environment is changed,” she said. “Mom, dad and the kids all have to buy in for it to be successful.”

The program, which begins with an initial assessment of body fat, blood pressure, fitness and overall health for each participant, includes an interactive component on nutrition and healthy foods, as well as fun games that promote physical activity.

Specific areas of focus differ for each family, whether that’s limiting fast food or soda consumption, better meal planning or trading TV time for outdoor activities.

“It’s not a diet program. It’s a lifestyle change,” said Bryce Abbey, an associate exercise science professor and Building Healthy Families coordinator.

Abbey said it’s important for families, particularly young children, to develop positive habits that are also sustainable long-term.

“We want them to make these changes for the rest of their lives,” he said.

Participating families are randomly assigned to either a face-to-face program that meets Monday evenings at the UNK Physical Activity and Wellness Lab or a workbook program they complete at home. Both programs include the same nutrition education, physical activities, goal setting and healthy lifestyle strategies.

Building Healthy Families, which is also a research project for UNK’s Department of Kinesiology and Sport Sciences, has been successful in promoting excess weight loss, muscle gain and improved health for adults and children based on follow-up assessments conducted after 12 weeks, six months and a year.

“In our community there aren’t a lot of resources for families who want to make a change and kids who need some changes to become healthier,” Heelan said. “We’re really that resource for them.”


UNK’s Building Healthy Families program is accepting applications from interested families until Jan. 18.

For more information or to register, call 308-865-8336 or visit www.unk.edu/bhf

An informational meeting will be held 6 p.m. Jan. 21 at the UNK Physical Activity and Wellness Lab, located on the second floor of Cushing Coliseum, which is part of the Health and Sports Center.