Childhood obesity has reached epidemic levels in Washington and throughout the United States.
Overweight children are at higher risk for lifelong physical and emotional health problems, among other issues.
However, these health risks can mostly be avoided through diet, exercise and education.
Local schools are taking the lead to promote healthy living, from providing access to nutritious food and encouraging physical activity, to educating students about wellness.
In the Camas School District, a Student Health Advisory Council works together to promote comprehensive school health programs.
“SHAC makes recommendations to school staff concerning health issues, policies and programs,” said Molly Ndoloum, district nursing supervisor. “They identify community health resources and provide information to parents concerning health issues and programs. The council’s primary mission is to address nutrition and physical activity as well as develop, implement and evaluate guidelines that support a healthy nutritional environment.”
SHAC’s roots began in 2004, when the Washington State Legislature passed Senate Bill 5436, which recognized the severe health problems associated with overweight and obese children. The legislation required all public school districts to establish a policy regarding access to nutritious food and physical activity as well as develop, implement and evaluate guidelines that support a healthy nutritional environment.
“A child that is eating a well-balanced diet and exercising regularly, adopting a healthy lifestyle, is more likely to be prepared to learn and achieve education goals,” Ndoloum said. “Encouraging students to do this at a young age helps them learn healthy, lifelong eating and exercising habits.”
SHAC currently has a “wellness tips” program, where general health information is given to schools to share with students either via morning announcements or newsletters dealing with health concerns.
The committee also received a FuelUpToPlay 60 grant to use towards Fitness Fridays, a before school activity run by physical education teachers to promote fitness and exercise. There is also an annual middle school cooking contest, where students create themed recipes geared toward healthy eating.
“The earlier we instill these healthy lifestyle choices with children, the more likely they will have a good grasp on the importance of nutrition and how it impacts their performance,” Ndoloum said.
The committee’s future plans include incorporating student involvement, developing a staff outreach project and recruiting new members for the upcoming school year.
In Washougal, Superintendent Dawn Tarzian is in the process of putting together a District Wellness Committee, which will work to develop and implement various wellness iniatives at the schools.
“I am excited about some of the ideas that I have heard in our district and some of the things that are going on in other districts in that state,” Tarzian said.
Some current programs in the schools include:
• A walking program at Canyon Creek Middle School organized by paraeducator Tabitha Johnston. The weekly walking goal was 5,000 steps. The two-month program included weekly prize drawings for participation and monthly prizes awarded to the top walkers. In addition, physical education teachers have a weekly Boot Camp, fitness homework, nutrition, and exercise promotion, whether school sports or another physical activity.
• Several career and technical education classes at Washougal High School explore nutrition, healthily habits and food. These include Family Health, Foods and You, Culinary Management and International Cuisine.
• Cape Horn-Skye Elementary physical education staff have provided trainings for in-class stress and active movements to provide a break and needed energy when children have been sitting for too long. These include yoga, stretching and breathing exercises.
• Hathaway Elementary School works with the Washington State University Extension program, which includes a nutrition program, where students learn how to make healthy snacks.
• Gause Elementary School holds an annual Sport-a-Thon, participates in Jump Rope for Heart, hosts a family fitness night and had a “Turn Your TV Off,” month. Students tracked their activities other than watching television. The class with the highest percentage of participation earned an additional day of P.E.