UPDATE: Read the rest of the stories in our series by scrolling down and clicking the links at the end of this article.
Every January, Americans head for the gym, Weight Watchers and the diet supplement aisle in a short-lived drive to “get healthy.” And every year we get bigger and bigger. But the McKinney ISD is working to reverse that trend and make healthy living a lifelong habit for the 24,000 students in their charge.
Before I tell you about the program, let me give you a statistic that may change the way you think of health and wellness in our schools: The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) now says today’s kids will be the first American generation since 1900 with a shorter lifespan than their parents. That is nothing short of astounding. Why? Obesity. Kids are eating more junk and exercising less.
MISD Superintendent Dr. J.D. Kennedy heard this projection last year and decided he had a chance to change the future for 24,000-plus of those kids, and that is exactly what he has set out to do.
Dr. Kennedy rallied his troops to put together a more comprehensive health education program for all McKinney schools. His team is now working with the legendary Dr. Kenneth Cooper of the Cooper Institute on a multi-pronged health education program. McKinney Mayor Brian Loughmiller has also declared his goal to make McKinney the healthiest city in America. (Loughmiller clearly walks the walk, having finished a grueling Iron Man Triathlon last fall.) The MISD and City of McKinney are joining forces to support each other’s efforts focused on health and wellness.
“It is my belief that we have a moral imperative to do our part as a school district to fight against the trend of increased childhood obesity,” said Dr. Kennedy. “We have partnered with the City to become the fittest city in the country. We can do our part in teaching proper nutrition and the importance of regular exercise.”
The goal of the new health initiative is to teach students and parents about proper nutrition and the health effects of physical activity. There are many components to the program including teaching students how to read nutritional labels; the basics of a healthy diet; healthy exercise habits; the effects of not eating right or exercising on our bodies, and promoting healthy eating throughout the school.
The Mission Statement of the “Educating, Eating Right and Exercising” plan is divided into three goals:
1) Provide a health program with the emphasis on the importance of proper nutrition and exercise.
2) Focus on improved nutrition and increase the students’ knowledge on the health effects of physical activity.
3) Provide both students and parents with the knowledge and skills that will enable them to adopt and maintain healthy attitudes and behaviors throughout their lives.
The fitness program is headed by two women who have a passion for health and fitness. MISD School Health Advisory Chair/Director of Health Services Julie Blankenship and Health and PE Facilitator Karin Klemm have been center stage in creating and implementing the program for the MISD. Their goal is not only to reverse the epidemic of childhood obesity for McKinney kids, but to create a program that is a model for the country. They are utilizing a program created by the Cooper Institute and seeking to have every school in McKinney branded a “Healthy Zone School” as part of a program created by Cooper, the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas and the Texas Education Agency to fight childhood obesity.
“We are in a lot of trouble, and now we’re doing something about it,” said Ms. Klemm. “This is the only body we have. Kids need to know that we eat for a purpose – to sustain a healthy life.
“We see the kids with diabetes,” said Blankenship. “We see the kids that don’t or can’t exercise. We have a passion for this, and it is coming from our hearts. We want to make a difference for these kids.”
“This is very similar to the ‘no smoking’ campaign in the schools,” said Ms. Blankenship. “The school is an educational building and part of that has to be educating them for life. It’s got to be whole body learning.”
Childhood obesity fast facts:
• The average teenage boy drinks 800 cans of soda each year.
• 9 out of 10 parents think their children are fit, but only 1 in 3 is actually fit.
• 1 in 3 children born in 2000 is likely to develop diabetes in their lifetime.
• Hispanic boys have a 52 percent chance of developing diabetes.
• 1 in 4 Americans eats fast food at least once a day.
• Aerobic exercise is like a “Miracle-Gro” for the brain because it increases levels of neurotransmitters, improves attention, focus, mood and emotions.
Parent education is also a part of the program, and “Health and Wellness” nights are planned for every campus this year. There are several things parents can do to encourage healthy habits in their children, said Klemm.
1) Be active with your children, says Ms. Blankenship. “Kids watch what you do, not what you say.”
2) Teach kids to read food labels so they can learn for themselves.
3) Teach moderation, said Ms. Klemm. “It’s OK to have a donut once in a while.”
The District will also be promoting wellness through community fun runs, Walk to School Day, campus wellness events, wellness fairs, and an updated school celebrations policy, which I will talk about in future stories.
This is the first of a four-part series on the MISD’s Health and Wellness initiative. Tomorrow: “Winning Awards, Educating Kids”