Gym Login
Explore by cause
Explore by region

Improving health for obese youth in disadvantaged Boston neighborhoods Boston , Massachusetts, USA

  • Two girls aged around 12 taking part in Fitspiration (Healthy Inspiration meets Perspiration!) a physical activity programme for kids aged 5-12 from the Boston neighborhoods
  • Group of nine children of different ages aking part in Fitspiration (Healthy Inspiration meets Perspiration!) a physical activity programme for kids aged 5-12 from the Boston neighborhoods
  • Three young children taking part in Fitspiration (Healthy Inspiration meets Perspiration!) empowers youth ages 5-12 from the Boston neighborhoods

Healthworks Community Fitness (HCF) is seeking the generous support of Gymtopia for a dynamic and innovative program dedicated to youth wellness. Fitspiration (Healthy Inspiration meets Perspiration!) empowers youth ages 5-12 from the Boston neighborhoods of Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan to take charge of their own health and wellness through a structured, medical-based fun afterschool program. Fitspiration meets 3 days per week, for one hour per age group, 180 minutes of physical fitness per week. Youth are engaged in a progressive fitness training class for a duration of 6 weeks, where many re-enroll throughout the year. Evaluation through pre/post tests show an increase in physical fitness and endurance in addition to a better understanding of nutrition, healthy eating and decision making.

How did it start?

HCF was founded to primarily serve children of color, who are at higher risk for diabetes, asthma, hypertension and obesity, according to the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC). These chronic diseases are directly linked to several social determinants of health including race, socio-economic levels and zip code. Many of HCF’s members are from Mattapan, which has no major supermarket, creating a gap of access to healthy and affordable foods for residents. Other members come from Roxbury, which has the highest rate of hospitalizations for children with asthma (59.7%) versus 31.5% in all of Boston (BPHC, 2013). Dorchester, where HCF’s programs are based, consistently has had high levels of asthma, diabetes and obesity amongst people of color for the last 5 years (BPHC, 2013). After climbing from 27% in 1999 to 34% in 2005, the percent of BPS high school students who are overweight or obese fell slightly to 32% in 2011 (Boston Indicators Report). The importance of having healthy neighborhoods goes beyond the absence of disease, and into the built environment (parks, sidewalks, safe places to go outside) and supportive resources (affordable gyms, affordable healthcare and social support). Years of budget cuts in schools have resulted in reduced physical education programs for youth ages 5-12.

In a 2013 report released by the BPHC Dorchester and Roxbury have significantly higher percentages of families with children living in poverty than the city overall (39.2% and 46.0% respectively). Nearly twenty percent of both Black and Latino children reported witnessing violence compared to 5% of White children. All these statistics are significant because they indicate what role social determinants of health such as poverty, violence, environment and education play in health outcomes. Based on the needs of the community, HCF focuses its services and provides access to preventive health opportunities to those most underserved.


1. Through continuous programming, reach 250 children ages 5-12, annually.
a. Methodology: By raising awareness with parents through meetings and outreach, HCF team members will recruit and retain 250 youth to participate in Fitspiration.
2. Continue to implement the 3 days/week, 6 week sessions.
a. Methodology: Additional evaluation questions assessing youth fitness will be added this coming year.
3. Utilize 3 different exercise strategies (evidence-based) that have demonstrated success in retaining youth interest and made an impact on their health.
a. Methodology: Use aerobic, strength training and agility techniques over each 6 week period.
4. Because youth frequently express interest in re-enrolling, support and cultivate leadership skills in each session.
a. Methodology: Engage youth to take leadership in certain activities
b. Create home learning games (such as ‘find the healthiest foods in your home’) and have youth present to their peers.
5. Engage parents/guardians in supportive programs such as nutrition, healthy shopping and cooking, and exercising as a family over 6 weeks.
a. Methodology: Through extensive outreach and awareness building, bring in more parents/guardians to engage in programming and work out during the program.
6. Improve psycho-social outcomes of participants by increasing knowledge of self-efficacy and self-confidence.
a. Methodology:
7. Using evidence-based strategies, implement the Fitspiration program year round and in Summer Fit Camp to reach an additional 50-75 youth.
a. The demand for Fit Camp has been growing over the last year. Using the year round programming, create and implement a dynamic program that will continue to support fitness and wellness over the summer.
Fitspiration helps HCF work toward its overall goals to improve primary care, prevent disease and promote health for vulnerable populations through the following:
• Promotion of health through safety: Healthworks Community Fitness is based in the underserved neighborhoods of Dorchester. Low-income neighborhoods have high incidence of crime and residents are outside infrequently. HCF provides safe, high quality facilities.
• Preventing/treating disease by improving access to healthy foods: HCF partners with Farmer’s Markets to help members access healthy foods at reasonable prices–so families can access healthy foods.
• Improving primary care through partnerships: HCF partners with community based health centers and nonprofit organizations to provide a seamless system of care.

Why is this project important?

The Fitspiration project is important because it is a replicable model that can be used in similar communities beyond Boston to create an impact on the next generation of youth. Chronic disease, sedentary lifestyle and stress are currently the picture of the future and yet with programs like Fitspiration, we have an inspiring initiative that can change that future and make it brighter, healthier and more impactful.

Project resources

Our Board of Directors includes:
Doug Rauch, The Daily Table, Founder of Trader Joe’s
Mark Harrington, Founder of Healthworks, Inc.
Sandra Cotterell, CEO, Codman Square Health Center
Bill Walzcak, Board Member, Codman Academy
Melissa Monahan, Communications, Boston Medical Center

Additionally, we receive funding from the Clipper Ship Foundation, Reebok Foundation, American Heart Association, Maximus Foundation, John Hancock Foundation and many more. At the helm of our leadership is Gibbs J. Saunders, an exercise physiologist who designs, implements and evaluates programs in addition to running operations at HCF.

Project results

Physical inactivity and low fitness in children and adolescents are raising health burdens across the US. Because physical inactivity in adults is now established as one of the leading risk factors for mortality and burden of disease, the emphasis on youth wellness is even more urgent. Moreover, a high fitness has been shown to prolong life and even seems to be able to counterbalance adiposity-related mortality.1 The fact that these factors also track into adulthood,3 emphasizes the necessity to evaluate and find effective strategies for increasing physical activity and fitness in youth.

There is strong and consistent evidence based on experimental studies for several health outcomes that participating in as little as 2 or 3 hours of moderate-to-vigorously intense physical activity per week is associated with health benefits. HCF’s innovative programming was honored and recognized by the Mayoral Prize in 2013, and yet there is something deeper happening in the community. Due to the social capital built through it’s programs, HCF is creating newer, healthier communities. Parents are asking questions about fitness. Female guardians are exercising while their children are participating in Fitspiration. Youth and their guardians are more curious about their post assessment. Parents are engaged in health education activities, including group trekking to local green spaces. Everyone is thinking a little more about nutritious foods and drinking more water. HCF’s strategic position within the community is one of a leader in fitness and engagement. With over 1500 members, HCF is reaching women and children in some of Boston’s most underserved communities. Strategic connections with community health centers (Codman Square Health Center), other nonprofits (The Daily Table) and city agencies (community centers) HCF is well placed to serve as a replicable model for a comprehensive commitment to youth health.

Gymtopia Comment

Great programme from Healthworks Community Fitness that has been operating since 2009. Services are provided free of charge to low-income women, family members and those referred to exercise via a Physician.

This not-for-profit organisation was founded back in 1997 by the Harrington family who operate Healthworks Fitness Centers for Women, a chain of four commercial clubs in the Boston, Massachusetts area. This forms a core part of how the Harrington’s commercial business can give back to the Boston community.

Project by:Healthworks Community Fitness

Visit website | Email

Location: Boston , Massachusetts, USA
Start date: May 2009
Status: Ongoing
Impact: Local
Submitted: 14 May 2015
Charity: Healthworks Community Fitness