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Published: Wednesday, 6/27/2007

Schools taking lead on healthy living habits Obesity, nutrition part of education

BY BENJAMIN
ALEXANDER-BLOCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The ubiquity of diet and exercise programs makes it clear physical health is mainstream.

But obesity rates continue to rise. Many health scientists are calling it an epidemic.

To deal with the issue, the Monroe County Library System is sponsoring a two-hour seminar at 1 p.m. Saturday, Childhood Obesity Activity Community Health Education Seminar, at the Ellis Reference and Information Center, 3700 South Custer Rd. in Monroe.

Michigan has an obesity rate of 25.6 percent, making it the 11th heaviest state in the nation, according to 2006 statistics from the Trust for America's Health, an advocacy group that promotes increased funding for public health programs. Obesity rates have increased by about 5 percent during the last seven years, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC's 2005 study, the Obesity Epidemic and Michigan Students, said 62 percent of the state's high school students do not attend physical education classes. Districts throughout Monroe County have been working to increase health awareness with wellness policies.

Nancy Swanson, the Intermediate School District's assistant superintendent for business and administrative services, is working to form a beverage consortium among the county's districts.

Ms. Swanson said a new beverage contract likely would be signed by year's end and would affect drinks sold in staff lounges, cafeterias, athletic and band booster events, and vending machines.

She said the new contract would take sugary drinks out of the elementary schools and eliminate carbonated sodas in the elementary and middle schools. Only diet sodas would be available at the high school.

Last year, Bedford Public Schools went one step further: It eliminated carbonated beverages at the high school and it has stopped offering deep-fried foods as main courses at the cafeteria. It also is offering more fresh fruits and salads.

The Bedford school board is expected to adopt a set of health regulations and place a new regulation in its parent handbook prohibiting students from taking birthday treats to school.

"We are working toward having nonfood treats," said Debby Kuhl, Bedford's assistant superintendent of instruction and student services. She said students are bombarded with sweets throughout the year, especially in the weeks leading up to summer - when students with summer birthdays celebrate early, and birthday cakes are found in classrooms nearly once a day.

Ms. Swanson is working on her dissertation for a doctorate in education from the University of Toledo.

"I am looking at whether superintendents and food service managers' knowledge and concern about obesity directly relates to their program's effectiveness," she said.

Rebecca Head, director of the county's health department, said it is important to encourage exercise and healthy eating, but also necessary for communities to change.

"We need to create more walkable communities," she said.



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