Mataio Swain - Charleston, West Virginia

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Mataio is an active 14-year-old from Charleston, West Virginia. He is very involved in his community through the YMCA and has a passion for music. He sings and dances in his middle school’s show choir. He also plays tennis for his school and stays active at the YMCA by playing football and basketball in community leagues.

As a Youth Advisory Board member Mataio has been able to partner with the YMCA’s Keys for Healthy Kids Program in an effort to find healthier options for his high school’s lunch program. In the partnership with the YMCA, Mataio created a presentation that was shown to several community organizations. Invited to speak at the State Capitol, Mataio led the crowd (and schools across the state that tuned in) in the cupid shuffle line dance to promote physical activity and to motivate youth to get active.

What motivated you to join the Youth Advisory Board? 

My primary motivation was that West Virginia has one of the highest childhood obesity rates in the country. I have a friend who has suffered greatly because of his weight. This friend is tormented at school and has difficulty getting around. Last year he almost died because of complications from being obese. I feel really bad for the difficulties my friend faces and would love to help him and others like him.

If you could tell a peer one thing they can do for a healthier life, what would it be?

I would tell my peers to get at least two hours of physical activity a day like riding their bike, playing sports, or dancing.

What barriers do youth face when trying to live a healthy lifestyle?

Our school lunches are not very healthy. I think this creates a barrier because we are supposed to learn good habits at school. Learning how to eat healthy should be demonstrated not just discussed in health class. Another barrier is that we do not have many walking/biking trails. We live in a hilly area and it is difficult to find places to safely walk or ride bikes.

Why is it important that youth have a voice in the fight against childhood obesity?

It is important for youth to have a voice in the fight against childhood obesity because we are the ones living it. In order to combat the problem, those who experience the problem must be involved in the solution.

What difference do you hope to make during your time on the Youth Advisory Board?

I would like to influence the way kids think about living a healthy lifestyle. I want them to adopt the concept, not view it as a chore or a task they need to complete. I also want to be able to point to at least one significant change that has been made as a result of my involvement like a new bike path or maybe a community garden.