LIVINGSTON, NJ — Children in the West Essex YMCA’s after-school program accumulated 120,000 steps in one afternoon as part of the 1 Million Steps Challenge, which celebrates nation's largest childhood obesity prevention program, Healthy U.

Using pedometers, the children in after-school programs at the West Essex YMCA and four other branches of the Metropolitan YMCA of the Oranges counted their steps as they played active games. Together, the Metro YMCA branches met the challenge, with well over 1 million steps.

Healthy U, which uses the evidenced-based Coordinated Approach to Child Health (CATCH) curriculum, takes a three-pronged approach to behavior changes through nutrition, education, increased physical activity and family involvement. As part of the Healthy U celebration, the Metro YMCA encouraged families to go screen-free for a night (and play games instead), go for a hike or walk, and together make a meal from scratch.

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Childhood obesity is a serious problem in the U.S., affecting one in six children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Children who are obese are at greater risk for many health problems such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. They are more likely to be bullied and to suffer from social isolation and lower self-esteem. It also increases the likelihood they will be obese as adults, the CDC said.

Healthy U was created in 2008 by the New Jersey YMCA State Alliance and the Horizon Foundation for New Jersey to combat childhood obesity through nutrition education, physical education and family involvement. Healthy U touches the lives of more than 46,000 children statewide at 480 YMCAs and elementary schools.