Kent schools, KSU fight obesity with health programs

Kelly Mills

Students are above the national level; programs created to combat obesity

It might have been the video games. Then again, it could have been the junk food. Maybe it was the lack of physical activity.

Whatever it was, the students in the Kent City School District were above the national average for obesity.

Marc Crail, superintendent for Kent City Schools, said the study was conducted two or three years ago. Since then, the school district has taken action to change these students for the better.

Barb Vasbinder, physical education teacher at Franklin and Holden elementary schools, said the students are being encouraged to do physical activities outside physical education classes as well as make healthier choices in what they are eating.

“I hear ‘I have a salad in my lunch today’ and ‘I chose my fruit’ and ‘I had grapes today,'” she said.

Since the study was released, Vasbinder said Franklin Elementary worked toward getting a “Five a Day” grant from the Web site www.5aday.org. She said this grant allows all of the teachers to have information on hand in the classroom.

Teachers can now talk to students about healthy eating habits and how to get more exercise. They use the “Five a Day” grant to show students how important it is to eat five fruits and vegetables per day.

“It’s getting there with our kids, faculty and administration,” Vasbinder said.

And physical education classes have gone beyond parachutes and dodge ball. She talks to her students about why healthy eating choices are important and what choices they can make.

Vasbinder encourages her students to talk to their parents about what is going in their lunch. For instance, when a student recognizes that only one cookie is necessary, he or she should communicate to the parents that three is too many.

Roger Sidoti, principal of Theodore Roosevelt High School, said high school students are less prone to the problems of obesity.

“One of the things we do know is that down there (the elementary schools), there are no organized activities,” he said. “By the time they get to high school, they have more available.”

Vasbinder said that’s one reason the elementary schools have implemented a “recess mile” program. Students get colorful plastic toe tokens to put on their shoelaces for the number of miles they have run during recess. This cuts down on the number of students just standing around talking during recess.

Sidoti said measures such as those taken by the elementary schools would help the students who do struggle with obesity by the time they get to high school.

“I am concerned about those kids who are not in good physical shape,” he said. “By raising the standards down there, they will be in better shape by the time they get here.”

Sidoti said the numbers in the survey shouldn’t necessarily matter. He said the important thing is teaching the students a better lifestyle because every student is different.

“I want it to be about health rather than about weight.,” Sidoti said. “I’d rather it be about nutrition rather than about obesity.”

Contact public affairs reporter Kelly Mills at [email protected]