Partnering with Community To Put Kids on the Right Track to Health

Wednesday, May 24th, 2006
This post was written by Melanie Matthews

A recent article in a local paper caught my eye about a simple, but effective program to combat childhood obesity put into place at an elementary school in Middletown, N.J., by a special education teacher at the school.

Beth Fitzpatrick, a physical education teacher at St. Mary’s School, helped start Marathon Kids, a twice-a-week after-school program for kindergartners through eighth-graders. The program encourages kids to walk, jog or run the track at the school. Fitzpatrick modeled the program after a similar one she had read about.

Twice a week, students go to the adjoining high school’s track where they warm up with stretches led by high school track team members and volunteer parents. They circle the track as many times as they can at their own pace. The children in Marathon Kids are also given healthy-eating tips, which include staying away from candy and eating smaller portions.

Simple, fun, yet effective: one 11-year-old participant admitted she joined Marathon Kids because her friends did. But now she likes running, and she’s improving each week. “At first I could go five laps; now I can run 13,” the pre-teen said.

A similar program targeted at schools is being implemented by BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee (BCBST) in the fall. BlueCross WalkingWorks for Schools is a voluntary in-school walking program, which BCBST will roll out to all public and private K-5 Tennessee schools this fall.

BlueCross WalkingWorks for Schools incorporates the importance of walking in the classroom and teaches children in grades K-5 the benefits of proper exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle. The program was developed by BlueCross and the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness in partnership with the Tennessee Department of Education, Tennessee Department of Health and Tennessee Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.

Participating classrooms commit to walking at least five minutes a day, equal to walking one lap around a track or a quarter mile, over a 12-week period during both semesters. Teachers are provided with an easy-to-use tracking poster that allows classrooms to record their progress. Students receive a WalkingWorks wristband, which reminds them to be active and make healthy choices. Teachers, students and parents can log on to the BlueCross WalkingWorks for Schools Web site, full of nutritional and exercise resources. At the end of the program, students and teachers are awarded a certificate signed by Governor Phil Bredesen.

In an upcoming audio conference, “Maximizing the Results of Your Disease Management Programs Through Community-Based Resources,” two industry experts, Michelle Brooks, RN, MSN, regional health plan administrator with University Health Systems and Danielle Butin, director of health services at Oxford Health Plans, a United Healthcare Company, will discuss how their organizations improved outcomes through community-based partnerships.

The community partnership being implemented by BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee will surely lead to improved health status among children in its community, just as the program at St. Mary’s School is helping its Middletown, N.J., community.

A few weeks back I blogged about our company’s participation in Take Your Daughters and Sons To Work Day. I mentioned that our kids joined us that day in a walking program in which we’re participating. My daughter, age 6, talks nearly every day about the lessons she learned that day – aiming for five fruits and vegetables a day and the benefits of daily physical activity. I believe that reaching our children with these messages during these habit-forming ages can truly begin to stem the incidence of childhood obesity and all of its effects not only on our children, but on the healthcare system as well.

Whether it’s a volunteer-based program after school, a health plan initiative during school or some other educational and activity program, these types of programs will surely benefit our communities.

I’m off to recruit some fellow PTAers and schedule an appointment with my daughter’s school principal to launch a similar program at her school come this fall.

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