LAS VEGAS — The Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation recently helped expand a school-based program aimed at curbing childhood obesity, according to Ric Jurgens, chairman and chief executive officer of Hy-Vee and member of the HWCF. He outlined details of the program at last week's FMI 2010.
“We've become involved in the Healthy Schools Partnership — a mesmerizing program that integrates nutrition and physical education,” he said.
The HWCF provided a grant to bring the HSP to additional schools in Kansas City, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Des Moines and a tribal community in Iowa. The HWCF is a food and beverage industry coalition whose objective is to reduce obesity, especially in children aged 6 to 11, by 2015. The foundation is made up of 80 retailers and manufacturers, insurance and sporting goods companies, restaurants and trade associations. Members have committed $20 million to the effort.
So far, benefits of the HSP have included enhanced physical fitness and improvements in behavior and performance in school.
“When kids exercise, there is hard evidence that they have a 50% improvement in reading skills,” said Jurgens. “There are huge reductions in tardiness, detention, suspensions and other disciplinary actions.”
HSP partners include the American Council for Fitness & Nutrition Foundation, the American Dietetic Association Foundation and a non-profit dedicated to increasing access to quality physical education, called PE4life.
Today, less than 4% of elementary schools, 8% of middle schools and 3% of high schools have regular physical education, according to Jurgens.
Children are also eating more than they should, said Kellogg President and Chief Executive Officer David Mackay, who also sat on the panel.
“Over the last 30 years, caloric intake has gone up by about 6%,” he said.
Further, over 60% of kids ages 9 to 13 have no organized activity outside the school.
“If they don't have physical education and they don't have activity outside the school, what are they?” Jurgens asked. “They're obese. We are absolutely determined that schools play a critical role in eliminating obesity.”
Jurgens is so determined that he convinced the Iowa Business Council to raise enough money to sponsor the program in 50 schools.
“Our plan is to seed some programs around America, provide details about how it works, verify results and encourage proliferation by whatever means possible,” he said.
The HSP program costs about $50,000 per school in addition to training costs.
“It's not like a community couldn't figure out a way to raise that,” Jurgens said. “If we get enough people involved, we could develop economies of scale.”
Under the auspices of HSP, registered dietitian nutrition coaches motivate students alongside PE4life teachers. Their lessons are reaching beyond the classroom to students' family members.
One child's mother lost 40 pounds using information her daughter brought home from the program.
Another middle school student credits the HSP with helping her focus in class. When asked by Jurgens what would happen if the program were taken away, she said, “My grades would go down, because this calms the boys and I can pay attention in class.”