Schools ground zero for campaign tackling ‘average’ fitness ranking of Colorado kids
Article written by Pam Mellskog
For the Times-Call
Colorado ranks as the No. 1 healthiest state in the nation if you overlook its children, who rank 24th nationally in terms of physical activity.
“There is this underbelly people don’t see much. We call it the ‘Colorado Paradox,'” Sarah Kurz, LiveWell Colorado’s vice president of policy and communications, said.
The Denver-based nonprofit that champions access to healthy food and physical activity responded by launching the “No More 24” campaign in August to raise more awareness around the issue.
Fewer than half of Colorado kids — about 45 percent — get the recommended amount of physical activity each week, according to the 2015 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey. Fallout from that inactivity explains, in part, why the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reports that 27 percent of kids statewide weigh in as obese or overweight.
“But we don’t really think that the obesity epidemic in Colorado kids exists only because of those kids making poor personal choices,” Kurz said. “… Just knowing someone’s income or ZIP code is a real predictor of whether they will be overweight or obese.”
For example, the more affluent Boulder County is one of the leanest counties with about 21 percent of youths in the overweight or obese category. Downstate, in less affluent Pueblo County, 40 percent of kids fit that description, Kurz said.
“In either case, if the environment doesn’t allow for activity — if there isn’t regular physical education at school, no park where they live, no sidewalks or road shoulders — the barriers to activity can go beyond inconvenience to safety risks.”
Schools as ground zero
Since kids spend about half their waking hours at school during the week and some eat half of their daily calories there, the “No More 24” campaign considers schools ground zero for creating a more activity-friendly environment.
Colorado is one of only three states with no physical education requirement at the elementary, middle or secondary levels.
The good news is that in the St. Vrain Valley School District elementary school students benefit from a three-year, $1.4 million physical activity grant the Colorado Health Foundation awarded in the 2014/2015 school year, Paige Jennings, SVVSD’s physical activity grant coordinator/physical education coordinator, said.
The grant funds in-school movement breaks from juggling and jumping jacks to hula hooping and dancing along with 100 Mile Club — a before- and after-school program. The nonprofit California-based club challenges students at more than 1,000 schools in all 50 states to run, jog, or walk 100 miles during designated times throughout the school year.
Students districtwide can participate in the 100 Mile Club for a $10 to $20 annual joiner fee, depending on where the school is in the grant cycle, and that fee can be waived for those qualifying for free or reduced lunch, Jennings said.
“In order for students to make healthy choices, we have to give them opportunities to do so,” she continued. “That the 100 Mile Club is part of something even bigger in Colorado this year, that’s just really exciting.”
At Longmont Estates Elementary School, kids get PE once every third school day, Principal Traci Haley said.
To move more, about 200 students “and counting” out of the 335 enrolled at the pre-K through fifth grade school have already signed up for the club this school year, PE teacher Mike Newell said.
Like so many of the students, some parents at Longmont Estates have stepped up, too.
Longmont resident Donnie Minette, 40, stamps tiny red eagles — the school’s mascot — on the arms of students every time they complete a lap.
During one lull in the herds of kids going around the field during the 30-minute session, he shared why he and his third grade son, Dorian, 8, committed to the 100 Mile Club held every Tuesday and Thursday morning before the first bell.
“I like it because it gets the kids 6out of the house in the morning instead of sitting in front of the TV,” he said.
The principal called the stamping he does to help kids count laps something students consider “badges of honor” in their trek to the 100-mile goal.
“… And though we think about this activity as addressing physical health, it also affects mental health, emotional health, focus and learning for the rest of the day,” Haley said.
Meanwhile, parents such as Chrissy Gephart, 39, said the club motivates her as much as her kids — Lily, 9, and Marsh, 7, both Longmont Estates students.
Walking with them before school has made movement less about covering 100 miles before summer break and more about committing to an active lifestyle.
“When we did the club last year, we weren’t into it when it got below 30 degrees,” Gephart said. “But this year, that’s my goal — to walk with them through the winter.”
Pam Mellskog can be reached at [email protected] or at 303-746-0942.
- Third-grader Dorian Minette runs to get his hand stamped during 100 Mile Club at Longmont Estates Elementary on Tuesday morning (Lewis Geyer / Staff Photographer)
- Fourth-graders Darby Haley and Lily Gephart walk with physical education teacher Mike Newell during 100 Mile Club at Longmont Estates Elementary. (Lewis Geyer / Staff Photographer)
- Each students receives a stamp on the hand for every lap completed during 100 Mile Club at Longmont Estates Elementary. (Lewis Geyer / Staff Photographer)