Students and obesity

Schools weigh in on how to fight this increasing problem

Schools weigh in on how to fight this increasing problem

November 18, 2002|by JULIE E. GREENE

Offering a variety of physical education classes and teaching healthy eating habits are the two main things Tri-State area schools do to attempt to curb obesity, officials said.

"We have a real obesity epidemic," said Eugene "Yogi" Martin, supervisor of physical education and health for Washington County Public Schools.

Dr. Daniel Sullivan with Physical Medicine Specialists said the number of overweight children has doubled in the last 20 years. That's too fast to blame genetics, he said.


The cause of obesity should be addressed, whether it's a thyroid condition or anxiety that is causing a child to overeat, he said.

The problem occurs when people eat more calories than they burn off, Sullivan said. In today's society people eat more fatty foods and children are playing video games or watching television instead of outside playing.

It's important to address obesity with youngsters because the chance of an obese child being anything but obese as an adult is minimal, Sullivan said.

There are three stages - in utero, the first three years and adolescence - when the body makes fat cells, Sullivan said. After adolescence a person doesn't develop more fat cells unless that person gets morbidly obese, he said.

"You'll always have fat cells. They don't disappear. The best we can hope for is they don't have much fat in them," Sullivan said.

Obesity is a risk factor for heart disease, cardiovascular disease and Type II diabetes, Sullivan said.

To get the most out of their workouts, Washington County schools have heart rate monitor watches students take turns wearing, Martin said. The watch beeps if the student's heart rate goes below or above what it should be during exercise.

In Washington County, all elementary and middle school students must take physical education. While high school students only need one credit of physical education to graduate, Martin said school officials have made an effort to get them to take more by offering electives such as weightlifting and aerobics.

The percentage of students who take physical education classes has been climbing since it dropped to 49.4 percent in 1997-98, Martin said. This year 55.6 percent of high school students are taking the class, he said.

Health education is taught throughout the school system, starting with teaching the youngest students nutrition and healthy eating habits, Martin said.

"We can't wait until the student is at high school and weighs 500 pounds to do something about it," Martin said.

In Frederick County, Md., elementary and middle schoolers take physical education every year while high school students must have a half-credit of physical education to graduate, department supervisor Lynn Carr said. Almost half of high school students take a physical education elective.

In Berkeley County, W.Va., students must take physical education every year through eighth grade and need one year in high school to graduate, Director of Instruction Donna Miller said. High school students can take electives such as weight conditioning.

High school students also must take a health class, which addresses nutrition, Miller said.

At James Buchanan High School in Mercersburg, Pa., high school students must take physical education every year just like the elementary and middle schoolers, said Jim Novak, head of the Fitness and Wellness Department. Teachers emphasis personal improvement so a student can see improvement from start to finish of an activity.

In the Greencastle-Antrim School District, students must take wellness class four times to graduate. The class is a combination of physical education and health that addresses nutrition, department head Chuck Tinninis said.

The nutrition lesson teaches students how to stay properly hydrated before, during and after a physical activity and how to properly gain or loss weight for a sport, Tinninis said.

Like educators at other school systems, Martin said he hopes the lessons go home. But, it's not his job to monitor what kind of food parents buy for their children.

A number of Tri-State area schools have soda and what some people may consider junk food available, though some schools have restrictions on when students can buy those items.

Washington County schools allow sodas to be sold in school, but there are more nutritious drinks and bottled water offered also, Martin said.

Some junk foods are not allowed to be sold in Berkeley County secondary schools, Miller said. Those with some nutritional value, such as ice cream, can be sold after the lunch line has closed, she said.

At James Buchanan High School, soda machines were replaced with juice machines in the locker rooms because teachers didn't want students drinking soda while working out, Novak said.

Greencastle-Antrim has a snack bar with soft drinks and juices available in vending machines, Tinninis said. The machines can be used during lunch and after school.

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