Program fights obesity, promotes creativity among studentsWritten by Michael Stainbrook | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Last year, students at three area elementary schools took part in an educational exercise program designed to promote wellness and fight childhood obesity. The students played sports from different countries, learned to count in different languages and enjoyed kid-friendly, healthy snacks that reflected foreign cultures. But this program did not originate in the minds of teachers; it came straight from local high school students.
A trio of students from Notre Dame Academy and St. John’s Jesuit High School designed “Around the World: Destination Health” as part of ProMedica Health System’s Fields of Green scholarship competition. Teams of two to four students submitted programs featuring creative physical activities, healthy snacks and education materials that elementary school teachers could implement.
“We wanted to make exercise more fun for the kids and teach them how you can exercise and have fun at the same time,” said Rebecca Funke, who developed the winning program with teammates Alyse Krausz and Mark Brahier. Each of the three received a $5,000 scholarship, and each school that had a student on one of the 10 finalist teams received a $1,000 grant.
“We realized that this would be a good opportunity to make a change in our own community,” Funke said.
This fall, Fields of Green will once again offer high school sophomores through seniors the chance to earn scholarships for designing a wellness program that local schools can implement.
ProMedica Director of Community Relations Stephanie Cihon said the scholarship program sprung from a desire to increase community awareness about a serious health issue. She and Chief Communications and Public Relations Officer Barbara Petee considered several ailments, including heart disease and diabetes, before realizing obesity was a common factor for many of their ideas.
“A lot of us need to think a bit more about what we eat and how to take care of ourselves,” Cihon said.
Fields of Green began in 2008 by challenging students to develop a healthier alternative to traditional school lunch programs. Thirty teams submitted their ideas that year. The number doubled to 60 applications in 2009.
“The real key for the success of weight loss in children is that it has to be very grass roots,” said pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Mark Watkins of the Endocrine and Diabetes Care Center.
“You have to get these kids to make their own decisions about what they want to do.”
Watkins said adult cooperation in the treatment process is the best way to help overweight and obese children. If a parent or legal guardian does not recognize a child’s weight as a problem it is often difficult to implement healthy lifestyle changes. Watkins said parents with no more than a high school education are more likely to have overweight or obese children. Childhood obesity can lead to serious health issues later in life.
“Problems early, lead to problems late,” Watkins said.
ProMedica also aims to increase awareness by using the Healthy Kids Conversation Map program to educate parents and their children. Parents learn how to make their money last while providing nutritious food for their families.
“The majority of what we’re doing is all about education and community engagement,” Cihon said.
ProMedica’s competitor, Mercy Health Partners, is involved in a similar program called Kohl’s Kids in Action. Through Mercy Children’s Hospital, Kohl’s donates time, money and resources to educate children about obesity.
Fields of Green applications and scholarship details will be available on the ProMedica website, www.promedica.org, in September.