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Area schools try to buck obesity trend

One third of US children overweight or obese, according to recent report
By: Justin A. Lawson Journal Staff Writer
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When Brad Kearns shopped around for the elementary school that would help mold his children?s early years academics were obviously a top priority. But if grammar and math were No. 1 on his list, physical education was No. 1A. As he toured the Skyridge Elementary campus with then-principal Doris Chandler he voiced his concerns about the affect of state budget cuts on the school?s P.E. program. ?She said that that?s true and if you want to do something about it why don?t you do something about it,? said Kearns. ?That was the impetus.? Kearns is a former professional triathlete, who went on to start Running School, which teaches students how to live a healthy lifestyle through running. The program has since boiled over from Skyridge to other area schools and into Northern Nevada. But not every school has a professional athlete among its parents. A recent report showed that almost a third of U.S. children are either overweight or obese. That number could get worse as the same report from the Institute of Medicine showed that two-thirds of adults, many of which are parents, fit into the same category. The Institute of Medicine, a branch of the National Academy of Sciences, is an independent organization that advises the government. The report called for schools to increase their roles in student health to help slow the growing trend, something Auburn area schools have already taken the initiative to do. ?I think anything that we can do in our school sites or that we can encourage our students to do for extracurricular activities that gets them up and moving is a real positive,? said Michele Schuetz, Auburn Union School District superintendent. ?We know students that feel well are healthy, get their sleep, eat right and have the right physical exercise (regimen) do better academically and do better socially.? Some of the programs include jog-a-thons and mileage clubs in addition to regular P.E. time. A teacher at Rock Creek is also a Zumba instructor and teaches the dance-infused fitness program to her class twice a week. E.V. Cain Charter Middle School has a fitness room and offers 12 extracurricular sports. Running School tracks students? run times and measures them against the nationwide program FITNESSGRAM to ensure they are in a healthy zone. The program doesn?t pit student against student, but rather the students try to set personal records. ?We?re trying to make every kid appreciate competition and personal challenge even if they?re slow,? Kearns said. ?We celebrate the winners and the fastest kid gets the special prize and that?s all great, but we also want these kids to realize that they don?t have to measure themselves against society?s standards.? Sodas and sugary snacks, such as candy bars, have been banned from school vending machines. School lunches are under tight guidelines that are set to get stiffer next year when all schools are required to follow the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. The United States Department of Agriculture plan requires age-appropriate calorie limits and larger servings of fruits and vegetables, among other things. While schools have attempted to the fill exercise void in a generation that has more sedentary distractions, such as video games and the Internet, than past generations, it is still up to the parents to set the example. ?The parents are accountable here because we also choose to be sedentary and not set a good example,? Kearns said.