With the end of the school year fast approaching, many parents are searching for ways to keep children active during the summer.

With the end of the school year fast approaching, many parents are searching for ways to keep children active during the summer.

Dublin residents Carlos and Erika Jimenez, the parents of two young boys, are addressing this issue with a program called Stretch-n-Grow.

Currently offered at preschools in Dublin, Hilliard and Lewis Center in southern Delaware County, Stretch-n-Grow provides fitness and nutrition information for toddlers and pre-kindergarteners.

The Jimenezes decided to start Stretch-n-Grow Columbus, the local affiliate of a national company, after searching for opportunities to combine their entrepreneurial spirit with their interest in health and fitness. Erika Jimenez is a forensic scientist by trade, while Carlos has more than a decade of experience as an information technology specialist in the banking industry.

"We've always been fitness enthusiasts and advocates of healthy eating," said Erika Jimenez, who has participated in numerous 10K races and half-marathons with her husband.

The Jimenezes left their lucrative corporate jobs to launch Stretch-n-Grow Columbus last November. Erika conducts the fitness classes, while Carlos handles the bookkeeping, marketing and other behind-the-scenes business.

"We thought, what a great opportunity this would be to get our message out to children at a young age before most habits are formed and instill a healthy lifestyle in them," Erika Jimenez said.

As parents, the Jimenezes were startled by grim statistics they uncovered while researching the business. Forty percent of 12-year-olds have heart-disease risk factors such as obesity and high cholesterol, according to the American Heart Association.

"We're trying to fight that," Erika Jimenez said. "We're trying to get in there before they get to elementary school."

"If you start at an earlier age when their habits are forming," Carlos Jimenez added, "then hopefully that will make an impact."

Stretch-n-Grow classes are interactive, starting out with warm-up exercises in which the children act out characters from popular family movies such as "Madagascar." She also teaches the students about healthy eating and how to identify major muscle groups.

"The whole thing is about getting them to have fun while they're exercising," Erika Jimenez said. "They kind of don't even realize they're exercising."

The Jimenezes say they often receive positive feedback.

With plans to expand Stretch-n-Grow throughout central Ohio, the Jimenezes hope to make a difference by preventing the sedentary lifestyles that have led to the national epidemic of childhood obesity.

The program stresses that "eating healthy actually gives you more energy to do more things," Erika Jimenez said. "It's better to go out and exercise, rather than sit in front of the TV or play video games all day.

cbournea@thisweeknews.com