Health buddy for children

WUR students help children in Wageningen exercise more and adopt a healthier diet.
Making vegetable chips together. Private photo

‘Our goal with BalanceBuddy is to match lifestyle buddies with families in order to help children move towards a healthier lifestyle. For example, by fighting excess weight, improving self-confidence and improving mental health.’

These are the words of Mirte Kamphuis (22), a master’s student of Nutrition and Health. She was a BalanceBuddy for a Wageningen family last year and now chairs the Wageningen branch. ‘We are currently helping seven Wageningen families. The board is eager to make our foundation more visible now so that we may help more families. It is meaningful work, and many students are interested in becoming a buddy.’

A lifestyle buddy visits the family between one and three hours per week, Kamphuis explains. ‘There, they engage in activities that fit within a healthy lifestyle. Which activity depends on the family’s needs. The focus may be on a healthier diet or on more exercise. With my buddy, we focussed mainly on exercise. We took part in different sports such as a bike ride and circuit training. Buddies try to interest children in a healthier lifestyle in a playful way.’


Mirte and Lars. Private photo

Ellen, a mother of two children, one of which is Lars, is happy with BalanceBuddy. ‘Someone shows up every week to undertake fun activities with your child. We want Lars to exercise more because he gains weight easily and has trouble getting enough exercise. Last week, they played soccer. Lars has autism and behaves differently with other people. When I’m with him, he doesn’t run. But with his buddy, he does chase the ball.’

‘Lars’ favourite game is Catan’, Ellen continues. ‘In the game, you throw dice at each turn. They made it into a physical game: each number on the die represents an activity, such as climbing the stairs, hopping like a frog etc. This way, gaming and exercise are combined. Having someone come over especially for your child, is really empowering. Suddenly, he is willing to listen and participate.’

Losing the training wheels

Master’s student of Nutrition and Health Brenda van Stigt (22) started as a BalanceBuddy in September. ‘I was matched to a family with a fourteen-year-old son. He has autism and has trouble exercising. One of his goals is to stop using his tricycle and start practising on a regular bicycle. I help him to achieve that goal.’

One of his goals is to stop using his tricycle and start practising on a regular bicycle. I help him to achieve that goal

BalanceBuddy Brenda van Stigt

‘I am happy to work within the domain of my studies: nutrition and health. As a student, my focus is mainly on theory. Being a BalanceBuddy enables me to do something meaningful in practice.’

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