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Grissom column: Schools join fight against childhood obesity

Schools and school systems across the nation are continually expected to address issues outside the realm of student achievement. There are numerous health and social problems that have landed within the school walls. Most recently, schools have been charged with addressing childhood obesity. The Washington Post published a series of articles on the threat of obesity to American youth. In one of the articles, Susan Levine and Rob Stein stated that childhood obesity has become an epidemic. Studies show that students who are not healthy do not perform to their fullest academic potential. Obesity has increased children’s health problems. An escalating number of young children have hypertension, diabetes and other problems.
What are some of the initiatives being implemented in the Rowan-Salisbury School System to address childhood obesity? We are very excited about a new partnership with Rowan Regional Medical Center and the YMCA of Rowan County to pilot some unique wellness activities. With the assistance of our new partners, a Body Mass Index measure will be provided for all second-grade students. This index calculates important information about a student’s health and will be shared with parents, along with ideas about improving nutrition and wellness programs. The hospital is providing Electronic BMI scales for the elementary schools.
Another pilot project is the “Fit for Motion” program with the YMCA and Shive, Millbridge and Overton elementary schools. This yearlong program will teach students about health, fitness and nutrition through hands-on educational and physical activities and games. Students in this program will complete fitness courses, jump rope, play games, do aerobics and learn about healthy snacks. Parents will be invited to participate in “Healthy-Living Parent Nights.” Pre- and post-tests will measure the impact of this fitness program for students. Trained YMCA staff members will work with RSS teachers to lead the activities.
Certified physical education teachers throughout the school system not only provide healthy activities for students, but also offer suggestions for other teachers to use. Energizers are used throughout the elementary classrooms in the school system to keep students physically and mentally alert.
Over the last three years, the RSS Child Nutrition Department has collaborated with the Rowan County Health Department to implement “The ABC’S of Nutrition ó in the Cafeteria, in the Classroom and in the Home,” funded by the Kate B. Reynolds Foundation. Teachers at the five schools involved in the grant have been trained to teach nutrition to the N.C. Standard Course of Study, integrating nutrition into math, science, history and language arts.
The Child Nutrition Department recently received a Silver Star Award from the N.C. Fruit and Vegetable Coalition sponsored by Dole Foods for the promotion of fresh fruit and vegetables in the school system. A creative assembly, “The Rainbow Groove,” was presented to every elementary school in 2006-2007 promoting healthy eating and physical activity. “The Rainbow Groove” included a pageant of fruits and vegetables, dancing to the “Veggie Meringue” and a raucous sing-a-long with the “Salad Groove.” I made my debut as a carrot during one of the performances!
The school system participates in the N.C. Farms to School program, purchasing local produce. The state chose five schools to receive the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable grant for five years for a total of more than $250,000 to purchase fresh fruit and vegetables for students.
The Child Nutrition section of the RSS Web site includes information for parents as well as nutrition information for classroom teachers. On the Web site, there are Weight Watchers points and Spanish translations of menus, as well as the nutritional breakdown of meals that are served.
Later this month, the program “Eat Smart, Move More, Weigh Less” will begin. This is a 12-week program focusing on different aspects of health and wellness offered through the Rowan County Cooperative Extension service.
Although the efforts in the school system to address obesity may seem small, it is a huge step for the development of a comprehensive program. The obesity issue is just one more issue for which the school system needs parents’ and the community’s support and assistance to make a difference.
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Dr. Judy Grissom is superintendent of the Rowan-Salisbury Schools.

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