CASA GRANDE — The students and teacher in the PHAT class at Casa Grande Union High School have lost a total of 120 pounds since Aug. 9.
Students in the personal health and training class all volunteered for the class and thought up a name for it, coach Kurt Kieser said.
Kieser got the idea for the class after reading about an epidemic of childhood obesity and wondering what he — a physical education teacher — could do to help.
He knew from experience it’s hard to lose weight by yourself, so he created a physical education class for kids who wanted to lose weight.
He exercises with them every day and fixes lunch for them two days a week — low-fat salads, sub sandwiches, pitas or stir fry meals, so they can see what healthy meals look and taste like.
Many of the kids in the class registered a 40 percent body mass index when they started, he said. Anything higher than 30 percent is considered obese, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Rene Galvez, 15, said he joined the class because his doctor told him he was borderline diabetic and he needed to lose 28 pounds. He has lost 30 pounds so far.
“It’s been amazing,” Galvez said.
He started eating healthier meals and watching portion sizes. He stopped drinking sodas, started drinking water and joined a fitness club.
“Eat right and exercise,” he said, “that’s what I did.”
Another 15-year-old, Nicholas Wantz Amaro, said he joined because he wasn’t happy with his weight.
He changed his portion sizes, started eating more salads, fruits and vegetables, started exercising three times a week for an hour or two after school and started football training.
“I’ll eat some of the things that I used to eat,” he said, “but not a whole bunch like I used to.”
Jaime Rose, 17, said he thought it would be like any other PE class but finds the class helpful. He feels more confident and his clothes fit better.
Everyone in the class had the same feelings about being fat and wanted to get better, he said.
“It felt comfortable being around other people your size,” and they helped each other.
Rose reduced portion sizes, ate more grapes and bananas instead of chips and candy, ate more salads and vegetables, stopped drinking so many sodas. He exercises in class and plays basketball after school.
“I didn’t used to exercise at all,” he said. “I hated to run. Now it doesn’t seem that bad. I feel like I can do a lot more things without getting tired.”
Alejandro Ramirez, 15, said the class really opened his eyes. His body mass index was 44 percent when he started, and weighing in every week, he realized how easy it was to gain weight, and how much it affected him.
He started drinking water instead of soda or fruit juice. He ran and worked out every day, gave up bread, candy and junk food.
Ramirez has been overweight since he was a child, he said, “so it’s a blast to come here and realize you really can lose weight.”
He had tried diet shakes and pills, but they didn’t work. “It’s better to run, and it feels good afterwards.”
Devonne Allison, 16, said she took the class because her sweet 16 birthday party was coming, and she wanted to fit into her dress. She lost 5 pounds by Nov. 3 and the dress fit great.
They weigh in every week, she said, and everyone in the class lost weight.
“He makes us exercise and work as hard as we can,” Allison said of Kieser.
Now she also walks every day after school. She walks her dogs. She plays basketball with her brothers. Her grandmother started doing Zumba and lost 20 pounds. Her cousins, age 7, 9 and 11, now walk and do Zumba. Her aunt started exercising before work.
“We basically turned it into a family thing,” Allison said.
Eugenio Corral, 15, said he wanted to lose weight and be healthy. In class he started weight lifting, running and hiking. He started eating more apples and salads. If he puts dressing on a salad now, it’s fat free. He gave up pizza, candy and high-sugar sodas. If he has a soda now, it’s low-calorie.
His brother, 22, wants to lose weight, too. His dad started running in the afternoons and lost 35 pounds.
“Do it,” he said, “because it’s healthy for you, and less health problems could happen later in your life.”
Thomas Gadberry, 16, said he joined the class to lose weight and it turned out to be fun. They run, play sports.
“It’s nice to exercise,” he said. “The sports are the best part. We get to lose weight and have fun.”
The class eats lunch together on Tuesdays and Thursdays, he said.
“All the food he makes us is pretty good and it’s healthier, too,” Gadberry said.
He started eating healthier at home, too, eating more vegetables, watching portions, drinking more water.
“I feel a lot better. I have more energy to do stuff.”
Tristan Torres, 16, said he took the class to lose weight and lower the risk of developing diabetes.
Besides the running, weight lifting and sports in class, he started walking to the gym after school.
He stopped the chips and junk food, eats more salads, smaller portions, drinks more water. His clothes fit better.
“I felt better, too, when I lost weight.”
Kieser said the class has been good for him, too.
He dropped 25 pounds just running, playing sports with the kids and eating with them. More kids say they want to join the class next semester.
Kohl’s and J.C. Penney donated gift cards, which are given as prizes when students lost 15 pounds. Assistant Principal Melani Edwards donated groceries to help with the lunches.
Edwards said Kieser has been paying for all the meals. She and her husband struggled with weight and wanted to help him.
“He’s an amazing role model for our kids,” Edwards said.