Archive for Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Programs battle childhood obesity

July 23, 2008

In schools across the nation, there has always been a lot of attention given to increasing test scores. But until recently, not a lot of attention has been given to children's increasing pants sizes.

"It's definitely a concern for us," Jodi Mackey, director of the Kansas State Department of Education's Child Nutrition and Wellness said about childhood obesity. "It has increased a lot over the last 20 years. Back then we just didn't observe very many children that were overweight, but now it's a common occurrence."

A 2004 survey conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics showed more than 12.5 million children (17.1 percent) ages 2 19 were already obese. To combat this unhealthy trend, local schools have been participating in programs that try to get children to eat better and become more physically active.

But the war against childhood obesity isn't just going to be fought by the children. Mackey said parents, teachers and even community members would need to participate to stem the tide.

"It's very difficult for a child to make healthy changes if they don't have positive role models," Mackey said. "Their family and community have to be engaged. The school staff has to be engaged. Children learn from the adults that are significant to them."

On Feb. 22, 18 Tonganoxie Elementary School fourth-graders and their parents braved the cold weather and slippery roads to attend the hour-long Red Shoelaces Program. The program was geared toward family fitness. Parents got to run laps around the TES gymnasium, play four-square and tag with their children as a way to make exercise an experience for the whole family.

"I think they did really well, " Kissinger said. "The parents that participated seemed to enjoy it and thanked me for doing it. You never know what kind of participation you would get with parents. I was happy they came down and participated at their own pace."

The program was the idea of Joella Mehrhof, a physical education professor at Emporia State University. In February, Mehrhof said her goal was to put childhood obesity on the forefront of people's minds because, to her, obesity was an epidemic.

As a reward and as a reminder to stay active, the Tonganoxie fourth-grade participants each received a pair of red shoelaces.

The Department of Education's Child Nutrition and Wellness also has come up with similar programs.

For six years, the organization has toured Kansas schools with the Body Walk exhibit. The 40-foot exhibit lets children travel through different parts of the human body. At each, they learn about the consequences of their decisions and how to live up to the motto of the exhibit's mascot, the Power Panther: Eat smart and play hard.

Child Nutrition and Wellness also sponsors the Kansas Coordinated School Healthy Program, which focuses on the health of the whole child and trying to make everything in the school focus on helping the child be healthy and successful.

Not only does that include how physically active the child is, but what he or she is eating in the cafeteria and even seeing if a child needs help seeing better or hearing better.

"We want to give something that teachers can use in the classroom and food service can use in the cafeteria." Mackey said. "We are recognizing that we need to get more and more adults actively involved. It's both the teachers and the parents because they both have a great impact on children."

Schools can learn more about the grant money, workshops and training that is available by going online to kshealthykids.org.

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