ActivePaper Archive Good choices - Chattanooga, 12/1/2009

Good choices

LifeSpring clinic focuses on healthy living

Staff Photo by Allison Kwesell

Kara Cabezas, a registered nurse with the LifeSpring Community Health clinic, weighs Maria Martinez, 11, while her mother, Clara Gonzalez, watches during a wellness visit at the clinic at St. Andrews Center.


Online: Comment on this stor y.

Maria Martinez admits she really doesn’t like fruits or vegetables, and although she’s on a soccer team, she isn’t sure if she wants to continue playing the sport.

The 11-year-old is in a wellness and nutrition class in the LifeSpring Community Health clinic, where Dr. Michele Pickett talks to Maria and her mother, Clara Gonzalez, about the importance of eating healthy and being active, while registered nurse Kara Cabezas interprets for the family.

“We are not looking to see that she loses weight but that she grows into it,” Dr. Pickett told Mrs. Gonzalez during a recent session.

Encouraging healthy living is a priority of LifeSpring Community Health, a faith-based ministry under Hope for the Inner City that serves uninsured and underserved children in urban Chattanooga.

“But we also realize they have immediate (medical) needs,” said Dr. Pickett, director of the ministry.

Focusing on wellness and nutrition is a way to prevent many of the diseases associated with obesity, said Kenton Johnston, chairman of LifeSpring’s advisory committee.

“By eating nutritious food, exercising, and practicing safe behaviors, it is possible for people to reduce many of the factors that place them at risk for illness,” he said.

Mrs. Gonzalez learned about the class after LifeSpring personnel did her daughter’s sports physical this summer, and she said it has been very helpful since they started the sessions about six months ago.

“I try not to give her as much to eat and follow their advice on walking together around the neighborhood,” she said in Spanish. “But it’s definitely hard, especially because she has other sisters who don’t have a weight problem.”

About every month, Maria visits the small office inside the St. Andrews Center in Highland Park and gets measured and weighed.

Sitting on chairs forming a circle, Dr. Pickett asks Maria and her mom what she has been eating, the amounts and the type of exercise she’s getting.

“We don’t want to limit what they eat, but the amount they eat,” Dr. Pickett said.

She also gives Mrs. Gonzalez economic options, such as buying small bags of frozen vegetables, so Maria can try new things and see if she likes them.

“We try to figure out what she likes (to eat), what she likes to do, to make it more doable,” Dr. Pickett said.

The clinic now works with local schools in programs to offer free physicals and healthy lifestyle educational sessions tailored for children. The group also would like to offer more workshops to provide parents with the tools to help their children be physically active, Mr. Johnston said.

But changing unhealthy behaviors is a great challenge, said Dr. Pickett, and education alone is not the answer.

“We need to build relationships with the community where we can work together to change those behaviors,” she said.


Provides health education and promotion, medical services and community advocacy for uninsured and underserved children in urban Chattanooga.

Offers primary health care and encourages healthy living through physical activity promotion and nutrition and coaching on healthy eating.