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Teaching Kids Healthy Habits Teaching Kids Healthy Habits

Should Schools be involved in preventing childhood obesity or should this issue lie strictly with the parents?

Posted by on Jun. 28, 2012 at 11:17 AM
  • 12 Replies

 As schools strive to be allies in the fight to get kids in shape, students are receiving health assessments, encouragement to be active and nutrition education.

Many schools are addressing physical activity and nutrition with innovative programs, some financed through grants from the state Department of Health, insurance companies and health systems.

"There are a lot of other demands on students and schools to perform academically, so we have to recognize those challenges yet increase the opportunity to learn about healthy habits to avoid increasing this trend toward child obesity," said state Secretary of Health Everette James.

At Eagle View Middle School in the Cumberland Valley School District, students are doing a Fitness Quest circuit that includes working with weights, spin bikes and Bosu balls for core strengthening. The school purchased the equipment with a grant through the Highmark Healthy High Five initiative.

"In middle school, kids are more tired and starting not to want to move as much as when they're younger,"said Cecelia Clippinger, physical education teacher at Eagle View. “We need to develop more awareness of good fitness habits for life.”

As standards of academics increase at schools, so does the students’ stress level, and it’s important to increase their exercise opportunities to deal with that stress, she said. At her school, however, she said health classes have been made part of the physical education curriculum and so students are losing 11 active gym classes per year. Therefore, she encourages her students to get active outside of school time.

“Schools are a great vehicle to be able to make available resources for kids,” said Dr. Robert Muscalus, senior medical director for Highmark Inc. “I don’t know if we’ll solve the problem of childhood obesity in one generation [as Michelle Obama proposes], but heightening awareness and providing education to the kids and parents is the start of being able to have an impact.”

Thirty students from life skills classes at Central Dauphin Middle School and Central Dauphin East High School are receiving education on fitness and healthy eating from United Cerebral Palsy through a grant from Highmark, according to Shannon Leib, the district’s director of public and community relations.

“The district recognized that this group of students was sedentary. We felt it was important to improve health and model healthy living for them,” Leib said. “Their feedback has been tremendous. They really enjoy it.”

Becoming active

With only 38 percent of Pennsylvania children getting the recommended hour of physical activity a day, James said schools must not only educate children about the importance of exercise but also increase opportunities for it.

That’s where Active Schools, a grant initiative of the state Department of Health, comes in. “We thought, let’s give the schools some resources to implement activities and prove it can be done in a school day and won’t disrupt the rest of the curriculum,” James said.

Each of the 40 middle schools selected will receive a $5,000 grant from the Health Department through the federal Preventive Health and Health Services Block Grant. In addition, each school will receive a $10,000 grant from an organization in their region that has agreed to support the Active Schools program. These organizations include Highmark and Capital BlueCross.

The state Education and Health departments are working together to measure not only overall fitness of the participating students, but also the impact of child health on absenteeism and academic performance. “We hope to confirm recent research that shows healthier kids do better in school,” James said.

He is also hoping to see improvement between student health assessments done last fall and those to be done this spring. “I hope we’ll see lower BMIs, faster times running the mile and more sit-ups and curl-ups,” he said.

All Pennsylvania school students undergo an annual growth screening program where their body mass index is calculated based on their height and weight. A BMI percentile compares them to their peers and ranks them as underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese.

Efforts might be beginning to pay off already, James said. He points to a slight decrease in the combined percentage of obese and overweight children in kindergarten through sixth grade in Pennsylvania — from 32.74 percent in the 2006-07 school year to 31.73 percent in the 2007-08 school year. It’s the first decline in 30 years.

Eating well

Schools are also focused on ways to make good nutrition fun for kids. With $1 million from a federal stimulus grant called Communities Putting Prevention to Work, efforts are under way to place nutrition information in cafeterias and on menus sent to parents, and to make locally grown, healthy food available, James said.

“It’s very inconsistent to teach the importance of how many calories you take in vs. calorie burn time and then not offer that calorie information in the cafeteria,” James said. “Schools have to provide the opportunity to practice the healthy habits while they’re teaching them.”

Before kids even enter schools, the Keystone Color Me Healthy program provides early childhood practitioners with resources and materials to teach preschoolers that healthy eating and movement are fun. The focus is on child care centers, Head Start, early intervention, family literacy and pre-kindergarten programs.

Preventing bullying

As much as schools strive to offer healthier food and more exercise, high school senior Danielle Puckett said she wishes schools would focus more on peer sensitivity to overweight classmates.

Danielle Puckett 18, of Susquehanna Twp., plays with a communication device used by her brother, Joey. Joey, 17, has spina bifida and Danielle helps to take care of him.
“Kids would always make fat jokes to me, like I should be in the ocean with the whales,” said Danielle, 18, who is 5 feet, 4 inches and 385 pounds. “I tried to ignore them, but it really hurt.”

While Danielle said she learned some useful information about nutrition in health class and got some exercise in gym class, her lasting impression of school is “a living hell.”

Danielle isn’t alone in her struggles at school. A study from the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University found that obese children miss two days more of school a year than their normal weight classmates. Researchers theorize it’s because they want to avoid being bullied or teased.

Gym class was the site of some of Danielle’s worst moments at school. Kids would make fun of her when she ran, or they would wonder aloud in the locker room how she found clothes big enough to fit her.

“Danielle would come home and be sad and quiet,” her mother, Dawn Keller, said. “She used to write in her journals, ‘I hate myself.’"

The teachers would tell the kids to stop, and they would — until the teacher was out of earshot, Danielle said. She wishes that she could have had an individualized physical education plan that would have taken her out of the embarrassing class situation and allowed her to run or swim on her own.

The goal at any school is to promote a sense of community where bullying is unacceptable, said Jason Pedersen, president of the Association of School Psychologists of Pennsylvania and a school psychologist in the Derry Twp. School District.

Many schools have adopted anti-bullying curriculum and/or curriculum that promotes resilience in students in order to be proactive in supporting all students, he said.

“In terms of addressing bullying behaviors toward children who are dealing with issues of childhood obesity, most schools would likely handle them in the same manner that any bullying behavior would be handled. The victim, bystanders, teachers and parents all have a responsibility to respond as a community, regardless of the reason for bullying,” Pedersen said.

That’s how it works at Dillsburg Elementary School in the Northern York School District. A bullying prevention program teaches the entire school body how to address habitual, intentionally mean behavior, said Principal Pat Franko.

“I can’t say that I noticed overweight kids being a specific target with the reports that I am getting,” said Franko, who did have to deal with one situation this year when a girl began crying because a boy told her that she weighed 160 pounds. “I addressed it with him when the teacher told me, and he asked if he could apologize to her. I followed up, and he did indeed apologize.”

Classroom teachers hold monthly meetings on topics related to bully prevention, she said. Students are encouraged to add items to the agenda, creating an anonymous outlet where an overweight student could report teasing and teachers could address it with the class without mentioning specific names, Franko said.

Danielle found that as she got into high school, most students matured and the hurtful comments lessened. When Danielle turned 17, she began to accept herself and concentrate on the person she was inside — a resilient young woman with hopes for the future — and allow those goals, not her weight, to define who she really is.

“The remarks still hurt, but I tried not to let them get the best of me,” said Danielle, who will graduate from Susquehanna Twp. High School and plans to begin pre-nursing classes in the fall. “My friends told me it doesn’t matter how I look because my personality makes up for it.”

Hippy Chic~Yoga posing, vintage loving, baking, cooking, crafting, gardening, upcycling, reading, mommy of 3 and devoted wifey.  Follow me at http://www.accidentallycountry.blogspot.com/

by on Jun. 28, 2012 at 11:17 AM
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Replies (1-10):
Mommy4000
by Member on Jun. 28, 2012 at 11:22 AM
1 mom liked this

In my opinion, the extent of their involvement should be to provide a nutritious food program, and find a way to include gym more often than once or twice a week. I don't feel it's their place to assess children's health or notify the parents of weight issues. Parent's need to be responsible for working with their own family physicians to keep their kids at a healthy weight.

abra
by on Jun. 28, 2012 at 1:39 PM

well said. I agree.

Quoting Mommy4000:

In my opinion, the extent of their involvement should be to provide a nutritious food program, and find a way to include gym more often than once or twice a week. I don't feel it's their place to assess children's health or notify the parents of weight issues. Parent's need to be responsible for working with their own family physicians to keep their kids at a healthy weight.



VisionSeeker
by on Jun. 28, 2012 at 3:26 PM
What if the parents aren't taking care of their kids? Do you feel that schools still shouldn't arm kids with the means to make better decisions? I ask because there are a lot of absentee parents out there unfortunately.

Quoting Mommy4000:

In my opinion, the extent of their involvement should be to provide a nutritious food program, and find a way to include gym more often than once or twice a week. I don't feel it's their place to assess children's health or notify the parents of weight issues. Parent's need to be responsible for working with their own family physicians to keep their kids at a healthy weight.

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NicholasMama608
by Sarah on Jun. 28, 2012 at 5:33 PM

I don't feel that the school should be making medical decisions about a child.  The most they should do is if they have a concern the school nurse should mail a letter to the parent without the child knowing about it.  Too many kids go home and tell their parents the school called them fat because their BMI is too high.  There should be no "weigh in" at school.

The school should give kids healthy options for school lunch, and more gym/recess time.  I also don't feel the school should be investigating the lunches the children bring from home.  A little girl's lunch was taken away because it didn't have milk in it.  The girls lunch was a banana, apple juice, potato chips, and a turkey and cheese sandwich.  The school said that wasn't healthy but their chicken nuggets were.  That's bull.  My kid wouldn't get milk with his lunch(if he wasn't allergic) because you can't keep it cold enough IMO and I wouldn't want him drinking warm milk or paying for milk when he can just have juice.  My friend's elementary school tells the kids you have to eat all of your main meal, then veggies, then fruit before you can have the cookie your mom packed you.  Um...no.  If I pack my kid a cookie I couldn't care less if he eats that before his other food.  He's a kid, I did it when I was little.  It's really not that big of a deal.  Schools need to stay out of the kids lunchbox and just provide healthy options for hot lunch, and more gym time.

countrymomma81
by on Jun. 28, 2012 at 5:40 PM

It doesn't bother me. Some parents really don't know much about nutrition. I, for one, don't. But honestly since being in this groups I've learned a lot more. I've started packing my son's lunch and when my daughter begins Kindergarten this year I'll be packing hers as well. 

As for the medical assessments, well they can't hurt, IMO.

happy2bmom25
by on Jun. 28, 2012 at 5:53 PM

i feel that the schools should not even be providing lunches (and in some cases breakfast and dinner) if they can not do it with healthy non processed foods. 

i feel that school should stick with academics, and let the parents take care of the rest. i do not believe that the government should take on every aspect of teaching children.

at some point us parents really must start raising our own children again.

i personally disagree with the food pyramid, and teach something different to my children anyhow. once a month my kids buy a lunch, and they understand that they are not making a healthy choice when doing so.

how can the schools include nutrition, phys ed, social laws and who knows what else in the future, and still send our kids into the world market? we are being out educated all over the world. i think we should focus on academics.

VisionSeeker
by on Jun. 29, 2012 at 8:42 AM

 I agree with you on these points wholeheartedly.  Unfortunately, our society has a lot of absentee parents that are extremely self centered and the kids come last.  These meals schools provide may be the ONLY meals a child receives for the day.  I do think that parents should take responsibility for their kids.  I know I do...but I've also been told I'm too strict because I've told my oldest that there's a grade standard in our house.  If you don't meet it, no sports.  See what I mean? 

I know that I get up every am and make sure my kiddos are dressed, clean, and fed a nutritious breakfast.  There's lots of kids in our school system here (and I'm even talking kindergarten) that are getting themselves ready for school while the parents sleep.

Quoting happy2bmom25:

i feel that the schools should not even be providing lunches (and in some cases breakfast and dinner) if they can not do it with healthy non processed foods. 

i feel that school should stick with academics, and let the parents take care of the rest. i do not believe that the government should take on every aspect of teaching children.

at some point us parents really must start raising our own children again.

i personally disagree with the food pyramid, and teach something different to my children anyhow. once a month my kids buy a lunch, and they understand that they are not making a healthy choice when doing so.

how can the schools include nutrition, phys ed, social laws and who knows what else in the future, and still send our kids into the world market? we are being out educated all over the world. i think we should focus on academics.

 

Hippy Chic~Yoga posing, vintage loving, baking, cooking, crafting, gardening, upcycling, reading, mommy of 3 and devoted wifey.  Follow me at http://www.accidentallycountry.blogspot.com/

VisionSeeker
by on Jun. 29, 2012 at 8:43 AM

 Me too!  I've really have started looking at labels more closely.  Drives DH crazy LOL!

Quoting countrymomma81:

It doesn't bother me. Some parents really don't know much about nutrition. I, for one, don't. But honestly since being in this groups I've learned a lot more. I've started packing my son's lunch and when my daughter begins Kindergarten this year I'll be packing hers as well. 

As for the medical assessments, well they can't hurt, IMO.

 

Hippy Chic~Yoga posing, vintage loving, baking, cooking, crafting, gardening, upcycling, reading, mommy of 3 and devoted wifey.  Follow me at http://www.accidentallycountry.blogspot.com/

fullxbusymom
by Member on Jun. 29, 2012 at 10:06 AM

That is great that you do.  But I fail to see why a parent has to get up with their kindergartner every morning.  I have 4 kids my kids clothes are laid out the night before, the take showers in the evening, they get up pour their own cereal, oatmeal or bagel for breakfast and have been taught how to do so since they were 5.  They then brush their teeth and wash their faces and I walk them to the bus stop well until 4th grade.  Then they are expected to get up on their own, get ready and off to school by themselves. 

This past school year my kindergartner did all this until I had to drive him to school.  I had a newborn and was up every two hours all night long.  He is quite independent and I needed to sleep when I could. 

I know that I get up every am and make sure my kiddos are dressed, clean, and fed a nutritious breakfast.  There's lots of kids in our school system here (and I'm even talking kindergarten) that are getting themselves ready for school while the parents sleep.

nngmommy83
by on Jun. 29, 2012 at 12:15 PM

yes to some extent since children spen so much time there

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