Battling Childhood Obesity

Family Health, Featured Article, News and Advice, Weight Loss
on January 1, 2010
Allen Clark

Clintonia Simmons managed to avoid the "freshman 15" in college, but then life caught up with her. After graduation, the Memphis, Tenn. native got a desk job, a husband, a baby — you know the drill. By 25, she'd traded exercise for baby fat that expanded with her next two children. "I'd get hungry and eat whatever," Clintonia, 43, says. By 2004, the five-foot-one-inch Clintonia had hit her peak weight of 185 pounds, too heavy for her to wear her beloved high heels.

But what really got her attention was the gloom settling over then-14-year-old daughter Jessica, who, at a mere 5 feet, weighed 166 pounds. "She'd always been outgoing. But now she'd come home from school sad. 'This boy said I was fat today,' she'd say."

At first, Clintonia nagged her daughter about diet and exercise, until one day Jessica said, "Mom, you're big, too." It took that simple comment six years ago to snap Simmons out of her unhealthy habits. She stopped nagging and cleared the refrigerator of sugary Kool-Aid, loading it with fruits and vegetables instead. She began grilling fish and chicken on weekends, freezing healthy portions to pop out on hectic days. And she began training for a half marathon. "When I started I couldn't even run a mile," Clintonia says. Her daughter caught the fever, joining the track team. Within a year, Jessica lost 40 lbs. and mom Clintonia lost 45.

Inspired by Jessica's increased confidence and the transformations both of them had undergone, Clintonia simply had to share. In 2006, she submitted a plan for an exercise and educational DVD for children and teens to Healthy Memphis Common Table, a non-profit focused on improving health of area residents. This was the start of a new career for Clintonia: founding Healthy Kids and Teens (, devoted to helping overweight kids learn about nutrition and exercise. "I had seen how my daughter suffered," says Clintonia, who also became a certified fitness trainer. "I knew overweight kids needed a push, a cheerleader, some knowledge."

She takes nutrition and fitness classes into schools, daycare centers, churches and community centers, now teaching 400 overweight kids a week about fast foods, soft drinks, calories. "We have children who have lost 40 lbs. or 5 inches off their waists," Simmons says.

Both Simmons and her daughter have stuck with their healthy habits. Jessica, now 18 and a budding writer, walks on the treadmill an hour a day and unabashedly eats Lean Cuisine meals at school. Clintonia-despite a 2007 diagnosis of multiple sclerosis-runs at least 3 to 4 miles a day, six days a week. The rest of the time, she's wearing high heels.

Clintonia's Top Weight Loss Tips

  • Make exercise automatic. Sleep in your exercise clothes if you need to. No excuses!
  • Drink water. Soft drinks are nothing but calories.
  • Don't go hungry. Carry fruit or a protein bar so hunger doesn't drive you to M&Ms.
  • Have "sometime" foods sometimes. Ice cream's not going anywhere. Just make it a "sometime" food, and use a small bowl.