Winning the Battle Against Childhood Obesity One School at a Time

A fitness program that helps students in underserved communities shows strong results

(LOS ANGELES, California) – With one in five school-age children considered obese, childhood obesity is a public health epidemic that many communities simply don’t have the resources to combat. The UCLA Health Sound Body Sound Mind program is working to change that.

The initiative provides state-of-the-art fitness equipment to underserved middle schools and high schools, trains the schools’ physical education teachers to implement the program, and helps build strong foundations for healthy lifestyles.

“A lot of the communities where we’ve implemented this program had no gym equipment at all, and there weren’t any opportunities for students to be physically active,” said Matthew Flesock, executive director of UCLA Health Sound Body Sound Mind. “By teaching students how to use this equipment starting in middle school, they find activities they enjoy and begin to build healthy habits that will last a lifetime.”

Those habits can help prevent health problems such as diabetes and heart disease, which experts say are on the rise as the obesity problem grows. “Our population, and especially our young people, are getting heavier, and it’s extremely troubling,” said David McAllister, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon at UCLA Health and a member of the UCLA Health Sound Body Sound Mind Academic Advisory Council. “Obesity leads to chronic diseases that require lifelong medication and can have major health consequences. In many cases, these are preventable with diet and exercise.”

That’s what makes the UCLA Health Sound Body Sound Mind program so impactful – and such a potential model for school districts. On average, its leaders say, the number of students who are able to pass the California state fitness test grows by 25% after just eight weeks of participation.

More schools are taking note. The program has now opened fitness centers at 121 schools in California and 10 schools in three other states.  


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Matthew Flesock encourages students at Luther Burbank Middle School in Los Angeles as they exercise on spin bikes. As the Executive Director of UCLA Health Sound Body Sound Mind, he’s helped to expand the program that provides physical fitness equipment and curriculum to more than 130 underserved schools.

Students at John F. Kennedy High School in Los Angeles head into the UCLA Health Sound Body Sound Mind gym for a workout. The program provides fitness equipment and curriculum to help students in underserved schools build healthy habits.

Matthew Flesock instructs eighth-grader, Priscilla Aguinaga, as she exercises on a spin bike. Priscilla has a new love of fitness after finding activities she enjoys with the help of the UCLA Health Sound Body Sound Mind program.

A physical education teacher instructs students inside the UCLA Health Sound Body Sound Mind fitness center at John F. Kennedy High School. The program provides comprehensive training that empowers teachers to implement a fitness curriculum and motivate their students to live healthy lifestyles.

Dr. David McAllister, an orthopaedic surgeon and member of the UCLA Health Sound Body Sound Mind Academic Advisory Council, reviews an x-ray image. He says the growing epidemic of childhood obesity is contributing to an increase in health problems like diabetes and heart disease, but that teaching children to build healthy habits when they’re young can help prevent these diseases and make them more likely to carry a healthy lifestyle into adulthood.

UCLA Health