Despite losing federal funding six years ago, A Healthy U at the U, a summer youth sports camp at UNM, has been able to sustain itself while helping Albuquerque kids stay in shape.

Project Director Gary Sanchez said that when federal funding was still available, the program received about $92,000 from the government and was able to take the camp members on field trips and buy more equipment and supplies. He said the program’s budget is now about $60,000.

Sanchez said that when the program was government-funded, guidelines stipulated that 90 percent of the youth participants had to come from economically disadvantaged families. He said this meant that many children attended for free.

He said that because of the funding cuts, the program now uses a sliding scale to determine how much the program will cost each participant. He said the sliding scale takes family size and income into account to determine how much participants pay.

Sanchez said the amount can vary from $10 to $200 to participate in the program. He said although funding is unstable, about 220 kids are participating in the program this summer.

Sanchez said the program began 40 years ago as part of the National Youth Sports Program. He said UNM participated initially with 200 other college campuses, but with the loss of funding, the program has had to cut activities and has been forced to fundraise for itself.

Sanchez said the lack of funds is one of the hardest hits the program has taken. He said funding cuts forced the program to end bus programs to take children to and from campus.

“Our numbers were very high, our average daily attendance was 385 kids,” he said. “As funding was cut, we had to make decisions and it slowly crept downwards on how much were able to fund each year, so the funding is considerably lower and we are not busing kids,” he said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the percentage of obese children 6-11 years old increased from seven percent in 1980 to 20 percent in 2008. The CDC recommends healthy lifestyle habits, including healthy eating and exercise as ways to prevent obesity in children as well as adults.

Sanchez said that with childhood obesity rates climbing and “hostile eating environments,” in which Americans can eat whatever they want, whenever they want, programs like A Healthy U are important for Albuquerque children.

Sanchez said that in the past, the program was based on physical activity and health education, but in more recent years they have added a science component to increase the diversity of the program.

“We try to do a lot of different hands-on things,” he said. “We’ve had people from Sandia Labs the last two years come in and they’ve (talked) about nano science. We’ll also bring in a dentist to talk about the health of their teeth. This year we have people coming in and talking about ultraviolet rays and things with the skin.”

Highland High School teacher Meghan Pope will teach science at the camp this year. She said although there is no official curriculum, she teaches the children a wide array of science-related topics.

“I just think it’s fun to expose the kids to all aspects of science,” she said. “We’ve done physics already, we’ve done a lot of health and anatomy, so we’re kind of just sparking their interests in all aspects of science.”

Pope said the program provides more than just a way to keep kids busy during the summer — it creates activities that will teach children skills and information they can use for a lifetime.

“What I want to do is be able to teach them something that they’re going to know for the rest of their lives,” she said. “I think that’s why this program is so important: because we’re teaching them how to be healthy and why it’s important to stay active.”

For more information on A Healthy U at the U, please visit http://coe.unm.edu/, click the Departments and Programs tab, click on the Department of Health, Exercise, and Sports Sciences, then click the A Healthy U at the U tab on the left or call 277-5151.