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Youth Fitness Program Teaches Health Lessons Through Basketball in Bed-Stuy

 The Youth Fitness Ambassador Program teaches kids ages 5 to 15 exercise and healthy eating.
The Youth Fitness Ambassador Program
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BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — They're trading the Xbox for a jump shot.

A Brooklyn church is tackling childhood obesity in Bed-Stuy with a new youth basketball program designed to give kids a better understanding of a healthy lifestyle.

The Youth Fitness Ambassador Program at St. Philips Christian Church teaches kids ages 5 to 15 health lessons on the court, as well as healthy eating tips off the court.

The program works to combat some of what Pastor NaRon Tillman, 38, calls the social aspects of an unhealthy lifestyle — including lack of resources and lack of knowledge about healthy living. Kids learn to take ownership over their own health, the pastor said.

"We began to see that in our community a lot of people were obese and not exercising," Tillman said. "The information is there, but how do we disseminate it?"

According to a health department study, more than a quarter of children in Bed-Stuy and Bushwick head start programs and public elementary schools is obese. In area public high schools, 1 in 6 students is obese.

Children who sign up for the program will learn basketball drills and discipline, while also learning how to focus on healthy foods, like fruits, vegetables and pasta.

By reaching out to kids at a young age, organizers hope they can help reduce rates of adult obesity in the community.

"It's a cycle that repeats itself," said Eric Hicks, 54, who coaches the program. "But if we can bring them in here, tell them to eat right, these are things you can teach."

The program was privately funded by the church, and a $65 monthly fee pays in part for the weekly classes.

But the program could gain extra funding in the future thanks to one enthusiastic supporter: incoming City Councilman Robert Cornegy became such a fan that he said he was signing his children up for the next class, and would look to find discretionary funds to help the program grow.

"With [Tillman's] vision, understanding the need for this in the community, we have to support it," Cornegy said.