Saturday, August 10, 2002

Schools fighting childhood obesity

Nutrition, exercise join three R's as integral part of daily curriculum

By The Associated Press

        SIDNEY, Ohio - Alarmed by the increasing number of children who are overweight, some Ohio schools now are spending more time educating students about nutrition and exercise.

        There are classes that teach healthy eating and exercise. One school puts students into fitness groups for exercise classes three times a week.

        About 13 percent of children and adolescents are overweight or obese, more than double the number two decades ago, according to federal statistics.

        Doctors and nutritionists blame TV, computer games, lack of safe playgrounds and more access to super-sized portions of high-calorie foods.

        Being overweight or obese puts school-age children at a high risk for heart disease, diabetes, sleep apnea, asthma, orthopedic problems and hypertension.

        “Obesity is deadly. We're seeing so many young people now coming down with diabetes due to the weight. It's a big contributing factor,” said Scott Roddy, a health teacher at Sidney High School.

        Teachers at Bridgeview Middle School in Sidney have tried to instill healthier habits by creating a semester-long wellness program, the Sidney Daily News reported in a series about childhood obesity. published by Brown Publishing Co.

        All seventh- and eighth-graders go through the program, which just finished its third year.

        Students are put into fitness groups based on the number of standards they meet on the Presidential Physical Fitness Program, which includes a mile run, push-ups or pull-ups and a shuttle run.

        As students become more fit, they can move to advanced fitness groups.

        “I tend to think that probably that mandated half an hour a day for many of these children is the only activity they get,” said Katherine Johnson, a nurse at the Mercy Well Child Clinic in Urbana.

        But time still is short for both physical and health education, some teachers say.

        Cathy Phlipot, a health and physical education teacher at Van Wert High School, said she spends three days to a week on nutrition in her high school health classes.

        “That strictly has to do with everything else the state Department of Education says we have to cover,” she said. “That list grows, but on the other hand health is still just a semester.”

        Mr. Roddy said he offers extra help to students who want to lose weight.

        “Then I sit down with them and hit it in pretty good detail with them, and actually give them some things that they can do,” he said. “But as an overall, we just hit some of the points.”

        Anne Coon, who retired after teaching health and physical education in Sidney for 30 years, said she saw more and more overweight students.

        She said too many schools provide less time for physical education classes.

        “It's not rated high enough. They figure academics are more important,” she said.

        Schools have come under criticism for allowing soda pop and serving junk food in cafeterias.

        But some, such as Greenville High School, offer salad, juice and fresh fruits and vegetables. The school also has some “junk food-type items” to keep students from going to fast-food restaurants during lunch, food service director Sharon Deeter said.

        Greenville High School nurse Kathy O'Dell said strict diets often lead to more problems and that students should focus on eating a well-balanced diet.

        “When you are hungry is when you overeat,” she said. “Dieting leads to disordered eating.”


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