Family Fit News

Family Fit News

The Student Fitness Challenge: Working Together Works! By J’nelle Beth Ruscetti, PA-C

For New Hanover-Pender County Medical Society’s final health article of the year, we have chosen to profile the significant work initiated by one of our members, J’nelle Ruscetti, PA-C. Her efforts to help area children, and, thereby, families, has the potential of improving both quality – and quantity - of life for our friends in Southeastern North Carolina – and beyond!

In the fall of 2013, I brought the first child obesity intervention and prevention pilot program to Carolina Beach and Sunset Park Elementary Schools in New Hanover County, “The Student Fitness Challenge.” The goal of the program was to teach students lifestyle changes to help combat obesity, or help students who were in a healthy weight category, prevent obesity. When the results of the pilot program proved its effectiveness, a grant from UNCW’s College of Health and Human Services allowed us to offer the program in two additional elementary schools, Bellamy and Pine Valley, in 2014-2015. 

In May of 2015, information gathered by New Hanover County Health Department revealed that one out of three rising kindergarteners was classified as overweight or obese based on criteria set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In August, in response to the data revealing the weight status of children in New Hanover County, New Hanover Regional Medical Center Foundation awarded Wilmington Health Foundation an $18,000 grant to fund the training of nurses in schools in this and surrounding counties on how to instruct The Student Fitness Challenge. On November 4th and 5th, 2015, one nurse from Leland, Pender, and Duplin and two nurses from New Hanover County Schools were trained to bring The Student Fitness Challenge to the schools in which they serve (Columbus County/Whiteville was invited to attend, but no nurse from that county was able to commit.). The nurses who were trained will offer the eight-week program to their students in January of 2016. The students who participate will be given lectures on how exercise, food, sleep and media affect weight, and will be given tools (pedometers, healthy portion food plates, water bottles and children’s cookbooks) to help promote a healthy weight status.

Recognizing the role weight plays on other health problems in children, and the risk for diseases as an adult: hypertension, diabetes, asthma, sleep apnea and orthopedic problems, New Hanover County Health Department offered an additional $5,000 to cover the expenses for more students to participate in the program that will be offered at Sunset Park and Mary C. Williams Elementary Schools, this winter.

The partnership of these organizations has been vital to coming up with a cost-effective solution to reach many in the community about the role obesity plays in health and empowering children to combat it. If the program offered by the school nurses proves to be impactful, it may serve as a model to offer resources to students in the future.

Long recognized is the role that obesity plays in the cost of healthcare as well as the increase in risk for health problems for children who carry extra weight. Wilmington Health Foundation subsidizes a program for families in the community who wish to participate: The Family Fitness Challenge. The program has been shown to reduce the body mass index of adults and children who participate in it as well as reduce the systolic blood pressure of adults who participate. To learn about the 8-week program, or to register, go to

J’nelle Beth Ruscetti, PA-C received her medical training at the University of Colorado Child Health Associate program, the only pediatric physician assistant program in the nation. In practice at Wilmington Health, she sees patients from birth through adulthood and especially enjoys caring for children.

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