Print Schools, city team up to fight obesity
Written by Greg Ruland   
Thursday, 24 February 2011 00:00

With one-third of Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District students obese or so overweight they are at risk of becoming obese, both COCSD and the city are taking action to combat the problem.

Fit Kids Arizona Program Manager Matthew Leversee delivered the findings to the COCSD Governing Board at its regular meeting Feb. 8. Both the city and the district are engaged in promoting ways to counter the trend.

The 2010 Coyotes Activity Challenge at COCSD encouraged students to increase their activity level and monitor their progress. Winners of the contest were awarded prizes, including a Wii Fit Plus System for the top finisher, according to the COCSD’s official website.

In conjunction with the district, Fit Kids conducts medical examinations of all students to determine each child’s body mass index, a measure of body fat based on the height and weight of the child, Leversee said.

A group of children participating in a Fit Kids running program head off for a jog around the fields adjacent to Cottonwood Elementary School on Feb. 9. The one-hour program every Wednesday afternoon goes for eight weeks at a cost of only ten dollars to each participant and a program t-shirt is included. The program currently has approximately 50 children participating in games which involve running, jogging and sprinting.Children with BMI greater than the 85th percentile for their age and gender are eligible to participate in a fitness program designed to reduce weight and improve health. About one-third of all COCSD students fall into this category, he said.

Children who are overweight usually learned eating behaviors that caused weight gain. In an effort to encourage healthy eating, children often are told to “clean their plate” and may be punished or rewarded if they did so — often with food.

Many children grow up to be compulsive eaters, overeaters and binge eaters. Overeaters are frequently obese or overweight and are susceptible to health problems caused by the extra weight.

Children who take part in Fit Kids receive a medical examination to identify and evaluate core medical problems like hormone disorders. Physical activity counseling helps children and their caregivers develop a safe and fun activity plan. Nutrition counseling is also provided, Leversee said.

Behavioral changes, perhaps the most important aspect of the program, are pursued by encouraging children and their caregivers to change diet and increase physical activity. Individual and family counseling is also provided.

Since opening in September 2009 at Verde Valley Medical Center, more than 200 area children have been referred to the Verde Valley Fit Kids of Arizona program.

Meanwhile, Mayor Diane Joens won unanimous council support for Cottonwood to join the national “Let’s Move” campaign during the council’s regular meeting Feb. 15.

First lady Michelle Obama asked mayors and elected officials across the country to join Let’s Move, a program that strives to solve the problem of childhood obesity within a generation, Joens told council.

By joining, Cottonwood agrees to help address the challenge locally by adopting a long-term, sustainable approach to fight childhood obesity.

Let’s Move calls on cities to help parents make healthy family choices, create healthy schools, provide access to healthy and affordable food and promote physical activity.

The city must complete at least one significant action in each category over the next 12 months.

An ad hoc committee has been meeting to develop a local approach to the issue. The group has decided to hold community gardening demonstrations, container gardening classes for families and healthy cooking and food preservation classes, Joens said.

COCSD schoolchildren will plant a garden in the community garden and the city will launch a Let’s Move page on its website to provide parents with information on healthy living, she said.

Council unanimously voted to fund the program with $1,500 out of the city’s contingency fund.