BRADENTON -- Working her way down the obstacle course, 8-year-old Jocelyn English flipped a tire several times, crawled on hands and knees through a tube and completed a number of other activities before sprinting back to the starting line.
English's physical exertion was just one of many activities for children as part of the Manatee County YMCA Healthy Kids Day, which took place on Saturday at the Riverwalk.
"It was great," English said after completing the course, adding she likes to exercise because "you can stay healthy."
Fun physical activities, healthy snacks and educational components rounded out the annual Healthy Kids Day. The event is celebrated nationwide on April 26, but the Manatee County Y version was held a little earlier in the month, so as not to conflict with another event.
A major focus of the YMCA is to promote healthy living habits, youth development and social responsibility, said Jackie Riordan, association administrator at the Y.
"This event accumulates all of that," said Riordan, the organizer of Saturday's event. "We're trying to get kids into good habits early so they'll take them into adulthood."
Riordan spoke of the epidemic the country is facing over childhood obesity. In 2012, more than one-third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Children who are obese are more likely to be obese adults, which can lead to heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke. Healthy lifestyles can help reduce the risk of childhood obesity, according to the CDC.
Events like Healthy Kids Day can help shed light on
the problem of childhood obesity and can help families and parents learn new strategies and tips on being healthier.
One of the simplest recommendations Riordan has: Walking.
"With little tiny steps, you can make great changes in your life," Riordan said. "Walking does so much more than just giving you exercise; it's a great stress reliever."
Riordan said a healthy diet also has balance, and people shouldn't feel as though they have to give everything up because it's unhealthy, but should aim for a balance.
Not everything at Healthy Kids Day focused on physical fitness. Children, including 5-year-old Caden Blaney, were treated to free face painting. Blaney got a spider painted on his forehead. He said he likes to play outside, especially hide and seek.
More than 50 different food and healthy lifestyle vendors were on scene Saturday. The event itself was free, except for food and beverages. Children and their families enjoyed the obstacle course, an inflatable bounce house, an inflatable slide and other activities throughout the day.
"It's fun to come and play along the Riverwalk," said Tammy Zielinski, as she watched her 7-year-old daughter Ava fly high into the sky while on the bouncy trampoline.
Zielinski, whose family belongs to the Y, said it's important for her to have children start the habits young. She also said she tries to lead by example by making good choices. Later on in the day, Zielinski cheered Ava on as she completed the obstacle course.
"For us, this is fun," she said.