Starting on the right foot VWSD gets moving to fight obesity stats

Published 11:56 am Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The latest figures are in, and Mississippi’s figures are still among the largest in the nation.

More than a third of all adults and nearly one in four children in the state fall into the “fat” category, according to “F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2010,” a report published by the Trust for America’s Health.

Healthier eating habits, naturally, are among the recommendations to combat childhood obesity, but increased physical activity is also a must. Both are part of the Vicksburg Warren School District’s Wellness Policy, which serves about 9,000 students.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

“Physical activity is just a part of the policy that each of the schools follows,” said Charles “Bubba” Hanks, former principal of Redwood Elementary who helped oversee instructional staff over the summer at the district’s offices on Mississippi 27, which includes the child nutrition and nursing departments.

Obese children are at risk of developing high cholesterol and blood pressure, early heart disease, diabetes, bone problems and skin conditions such as heat rash, fungal infections and acne, says the online health forum, WebMD. In addition, overweight kids are more prone to depression, sadness and other emotional problems.

The VWSD’s wellness policy mandates 150 minutes of physical activity each week for students in kindergarten through eighth grade and a 1/2 Carnegie unit class for high-schoolers. Older students can also substitute the equivalent in an extracurricular activity such as the marching band or sports, said Assistant Superintendent Debra Hullum.

To meet the requirement, the elementary schools begin with physical education classes, Hanks said. Over the four nine-week terms, students attend a 45- to 50-minute PE class once or twice a week. The balance of the 150 minutes is made up of daily 20-minute recesses, Hanks said. Plus, the district’s wellness policy discourages teachers from withholding recess as punishment.

Younger students, such as kindergartners, may need and get two recesses daily, he said.

As schools got under way last week with temperatures in the mid- to high-90s and heat indices over 100, students were provided indoor activities because it’s just too hot outside, Sherman Avenue principal Ray Hume said.

“Our teachers also do physical activities with the kids during lesson time,” Hanks said. Many teachers will break up seatwork with standing, stretching, jumping, moving around and doing hands-on projects, and these are included in the teachers’ lesson plans, he said.

The Mississippi Department of Education publishes a web page that teachers can access in planning lessons that involve movement and activity, said Hullum. It’s good for the kids and the teachers, she said: “It energizes them.”

The junior high and high schools employ PE teachers and daily classes are part of a student’s regular schedule, unless he or she is an athlete on a team, Hullum said.

During the year, students also participate in activities such as Jump Rope for Heart and Hoops for Heart, sponsored by the American Heart Association; cancer walks; and other service events that involve physical activity.

Schools are also encouraged to participate in a yearly fitness test, such as the President’s Challenge to Physical Fitness, and each school’s annual field day is always a popular event, Hanks said.

Cafeterias at all VWSD schools aim to serve nutritionally-balanced meals, low- and nonfat dairy products and limited salty snacks. Foods such as fried chicken are cut to once a month by director of child nutrition Gail Kavanaugh. Many foods are steamed, and even french fries are now baked, she has said.

“Kids are not going to get fat on what they are fed in our cafeterias,” said interim Superintendent Donald Oakes.

Trust for America’s Health emphasizes that at any age, obesity is a national, not just local, problem. More than two-thirds of the states, 38, now have obesity rates greater than 25 percent. In 1991, no state had an obesity rate above 20 percent.

The Mississippi Healthy Students Act of 2007 requires schools to appoint health councils, made up of members such as the school nurse, cafeteria manager and volunteer parents. Some councils organize annual health fairs to provide information, sometimes weight and body-fat measurements and fun activities, too.

“These are directed at the parents, too,” Oakes said, stressing that good nutrition and healthy activity levels need to start at home.

Oakes and Hanks said there’s a greater emphasis on PE now, especially in the younger grades.

“Forty years ago we didn’t need PE in the elementary schools,” Hanks said. “Kids weren’t sitting at home playing video games and watching TV, and they were eating home-cooked meals and not going to fast-food restaurants. They were going outside, playing ball and running around. Now it’s needed because things have changed so much.”