Family medicine prof volunteers in the community to teach kids that being active is fun

McKernan School's 100 Kilometre Club at 4,400 and counting

Janet Harvey - 9 May 2013

How do we get kids to move more? With approximately one-third of Canadian children between the ages of five and 17 either overweight or obese, it is a question on the minds of many parents and educators these days.

Doug Klein has a suggestion: start a 100 kilometre club in your kids' school.

In November 2012, the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry faculty member started just such a club at McKernan Elementary where his three kids go to school. The results have been inspiring. More than 33 per cent of the school's kindergarten to Grade 6 children are participating in the challenge, running or walking laps in the gym Wednesdays at lunchtime and in the school's hallways Thursday mornings before classes start. The school has logged more than 4,400 kilometres to date.

"I've been blown away by the interest quite honestly," says Klein, an associate professor in the Department of Family Medicine. "I was hoping to get a few kids to participate but we have over 90. When I walk into the school Wednesdays at lunchtime I see the kids already running, wearing their club T-shirts."

The T-shirts he speaks of are one of the rewards he, his wife Jennifer and Grade 5 teacher Jason Ludwar have developed for the kids when they reach a milestone. At 25 kilometres they receive a 100 Kilometres Club T-shirt, a pen at 50, a bracelet at 75 and a medal at 100. Klein also had to order some additional bracelets to mark 150 kilometres for the kids who have already reached that milestone.

A runner himself, Klein remembers participating in a similar school club when he was a kid. And now, as a family doctor with a master's degree in public health, he says he is always looking for opportunities to help kids and families develop healthy habits. "The impact I see in the kids is unbelievable," says Klein. "They love it. And what's really great is that it's all sorts of kids participating, not just the kids who were already involved in sports or athletics. They're out having fun and that's what this is all about. We're trying to teach them that activity is fun."

Klein adds that one of the most positive results of the club is the way it has also extended into participants' families. The kids are encouraged to walk and run on their own, outside of school, and to track those kilometres for the challenge. Naturally this means that moms and dads and other family members often end up participating as well. "It's spilling over so that it's not just healthy kids, it's also becoming healthy families, and that's even better."

Originally from Regina, Klein first came to the U of A to do his residency in family medicine. He and his wife liked the city and decided to stay and put down roots because of the opportunities and sense of community they found here. Building on his work with the 100 Kilometre Club, Klein is now developing a wellness network with McKernan and three other area schools: Belgravia, Grandview and Avalon. The network, which receives start-up funding funding from the U of A School of Public Health, brings parents together across these four schools to share ideas and look at ways to promote healthy lifestyles for kids.

Klein's many volunteer hours with McKernan School's 100 Kilometre Club helped the FoMD surpass its goal for the 2013 Volunteer Hours of Service Challenge, part of the Faculty's centennial celebrations.