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LCSS works to combat obesity

Schools implement fitness programs, stress healthy eating

POSTED: September 28, 2011 9:24 a.m.
Danielle Hipps/

Lewis Frasier Middle School students practice dancing on Tuesday to Beyonce Knowles’ “Move Your Body” as part of the school’s “Let’s Move” initiative.

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Pop singer Beyonce Knowles has issued a challenge to students nationwide in conjunction with the “Let’s Move” initiative, and volunteers from Lewis Frasier Middle School are rising to the occasion.

For the past two weeks, the students have logged hours of after-school practice learning the steps to Knowles’ song “Move Your Body” as one aspect of National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month.

The students will record a performance of the routine Thursday afternoon for submission to a statewide schools challenge offered by Live Healthy Georgia, according to math teacher and cheerleading coach Freda Gardner.

When Gardner heard about the challenge, she knew it would be a way to engage students while promoting healthy lifestyles, she said.

“It’s important to promote health and nutrition,” she said, adding that the students who experience health problems often see a decrease in academic achievement.

Obesity in children and adolescents has almost tripled since 1980, and an estimated 17 percent of those ages 2 to 19 are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And the repercussions of childhood obesity can have lasting effects.

“Childhood obesity puts nearly one-third of America’s children at early risk for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and even stroke — conditions usually associated with adulthood,” the National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month website said.

With the awareness month drawing to a close, the school system’s director of school nutrition, Christine Reddick, spoke about positive-change efforts that will continue throughout the year during Tuesday’s board of education work session.

Six of the district’s schools are participating in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, which awarded the district a $193,601.56 grant to feed fresh produce to 3,500 students and teachers throughout the academic year.

Since the program kicked off with a Georgia peach Aug. 22, students at the schools have been provided with a new snack every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Because the program’s goal is to introduce children to different varieties of fruits and vegetables while encouraging them to seek out the foods over less healthy alternatives, the items are served in their “most natural state” as frequently as possible, nutrition department spokeswoman Kelli Boxler said.

“Students are learning that their fruits and vegetables do not come from a grocery store but from trees, plants, bushes and sometimes from the ground,” Reddick said in a news release. “These experiences will follow these children throughout their lives and have a positive influence on their diet.”

From cucumbers to plums to honeydew melons, the students have been given a range of produce options, and teachers are encouraged to integrate the foods into their lesson plans.

The grant only was available to elementary schools that had a certain percentage of students enrolled in the free and reduced-price meal program, Boxler said. Participating schools are Button Gwinnett, Frank Long, Jordye Bacon, Liberty, Lyman Hall and Waldo Pafford.

“For some students, this was the first time they have ever eaten a fresh peach,” Lyman Hall Elementary school nutrition manager Maggie Vazquez said in a news release. “They were excited to learn that they have fuzzy skin and a pit inside.”

Beyond the fresh produce program, the nutrition department also has changed its lunchroom offerings by reducing salt and fat contents and increasing fiber and whole grains, Reddick said. Cafeterias also have increased their fresh fruit and salad options and must meet USDA calorie and fat percentage requirements.

Whole and 2 percent milk no longer are offered in schools, but students still can find fat free and 1 percent offerings in plain, strawberry and chocolate flavors, she said.

Today also marks the 11th annual World Milk Day, and students throughout the county have been celebrating with discussions about dairy products — from their origins to their roles in our diets.  

The county’s three middle schools, Lewis Frasier, Midway and Snelson-Golden, all are gearing up to participate in the “Fuel Up to Play 60” program launched by the National Dairy Council and the National Football League, Boxler said.

Midway Middle and Lewis Frasier each were awarded a $2,500 grant for the program, and Snelson-Golden is in the process of applying, Boxler said. The program emphasizes a nutritionally balanced diet and encourages children to engage in at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day, according to its website.

The Southeastern United Dairy Council Association, one of the local World Milk Day sponsors, also donated 2,500 pedometers to middle school coaches. Some schools will use the pedometers as prizes, while others will incorporate them into fitness curriculum projects like having students track the miles they walk until they have reached an imagined destination, Boxler said.

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