Cutting the fat: Elementary school students moving toward healthier lifestyle

  • Published
  • By Holly L. Birchfield
  • 78th ABW/PA
Team Lean challengers aren't the only ones at Robins looking to slim down.

Robins Elementary School has stepped up its efforts to help children eat healthier and get moving to combat the risk for childhood obesity.

Gwyn Maddox, food service director for the Georgia and Alabama Department of Defense Elementary and Secondary Schools District based at Fort Benning, Ga. is responsible for food programs at Robins Elementary, Fort Benning, and Fort Rucker schools. She said the schools have done all they can to cut the risk factor for childhood obesity.

"One of the big things we've done in the past couple of years is removing deep fat fryers from our kitchens," she said. "We don't fry anything anymore. We also have guidelines from the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) in terms of fat, sodium and cholesterol, and we have to meet those goals."

Ms. Maddox said by the standards, children must be served two ounces of protein and a combined total of three quarters of a cup of fruit and vegetables. Additionally, children must get eight to 11 servings of bread each week.

To keep children's nutrition needs in check, Robins Elementary School's cafeteria has replaced white bread with a multi-grain version, tossed regular potato chips in exchange for baked ones, and replaced whole milk with low-fat and non-fat versions.

Ms. Maddox said fast food is not allowed for anyone eating in the cafeteria as well.

Overall, the change has been positive so far.

"We're trying to introduce children to different things," she said. "What makes it difficult is lunchroom food doesn't always look like the food they eat when they go out. It's hard to entice children to try different things. We have introduced some new things and we've had pretty good success with them."

The lunchroom isn't the only place getting rave reviews in the health-conscious arena.

Robins Elementary students are getting excited about the activities Deb Hogan, physical education instructor at the school for 18 years, has planned for their once-a-week physical education period.

Whether it's a game of tag or kickboxing and Taekwondo, Ms. Hogan finds fun activities to get kindergartners through second graders moving.

"I do an activity with them then after I get them moving, I ask them to sit down and feel their own heart," she said. "I had a pre-schooler who said, 'Oh, my heart is dancing.' He realized because of the activity, his heart (rate) was accelerated."

Third through sixth graders wear pedometers to see just how much they're walking, Ms. Hogan said.

"They have to estimate the number of steps they take," she said. "Then, at the end of class, they do a comparison of greater than, less than and equal to. On average, they do anywhere from 800 to 1,200 steps in a 45-minute program. So I do keep them very active."

Ms. Hogan said it's important to teach children about the benefits of exercise early in life.

"I try to teach them that moving is fun," she said. "If I get them at this young age and if they realize just getting out and moving is a good thing, when they get to their parents' age, they will have a reduced possibility of developing Type II diabetes, heart attacks and strokes."

Those valuable lessons aren't something that should only be taught at school either, said Lea Floyd, a registered nurse at the school for 16 years.

"Habits start very early in life," she said. "Unfortunately, children mimic what they see. They may not listen to what you say, but they will follow what you do. So, if you set a good example for them as far as what you're eating, your daily routines, they will follow that example."

Ms. Floyd said it's no surprise childhood obesity is on the rise in America. But, she said parents can put a stop to the problem in their own homes.

"The one thing is to practice what you preach," she said. "If the children see what the adults are doing, and if the adults are living a healthier lifestyle as far as watching what they eat and getting out and moving every day in some form or fashion and letting their children know that they don't drink sodas and they drink more water, milk and juice, then kids will learn."

Ms. Floyd said parents have more control over the habits their children form than they may think.

"They're going to have to set the example because that's what they're going to see."