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Kiski Area students to get lessons in fitness

Brian C. Rittmeyer
| Monday, Feb. 23, 2009

The district plans to use $90,000 in grant money to fight childhood obesity with new programs in the 2009-10 school year.

Kiski Area School District was awarded nine Highmark Healthy High 5 School Challenge grants. Each of the district's nine buildings received $10,000 for programs aimed at addressing childhood obesity.

At the elementary level, teachers will incorporate physical activity into the regular classroom setting, while secondary students will be able to use new equipment such as Nintendo Wii fitness, stability balls, exercise bikes, heart rate monitors, pedometers, resistance bands and game bikes in existing physical education programs.

"We recognize the importance of providing our students with the resources that will encourage them to adopt healthy habits," Superintendent John Meighan said. "These programs will allow us to provide children with appropriate and challenging activities while enhancing our existing academic programs."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 16 percent of children age 6 to 19 are overweight or obese, a number that has tripled since 1980. An additional 15 percent are considered at risk of becoming overweight.

During the past 30 years, the childhood obesity rate has more than doubled for children aged 2 to 5 and 12 to 19. It has tripled for children aged 6 to 11, according to the center.

The elementary program, called Kids in Shape Keeping Instruction FUN! -- KISKI FUN! -- will be aimed to get an additional 10 minutes of activity into the days of the district's 2,023 kindergarten through sixth-grade students.

"They'll have the kids up and moving instead of constantly sitting at their desks with paper and pencil," said Patricia Thomas, assistant to the superintendent for administrative services. "Every day they can incorporate it into their every day lessons."

Factors such as body mass index, heart rates and other physical aspects will be measured to determine the effectiveness of the program, Thomas said.

For the 2,066 secondary students in grades 7 to 12, the program will work toward changing physical education from a sports-based program to a fitness-centered one, Thomas said.

"You don't have to be on a sports team to be physically fit," said Diane Haney, a health and physical education teacher who was involved in writing the grant application. "You can be very fit and never play a team sport your whole life. We want to get kids to understand that concept. Physical fitness is a personal goal."

According to the CDC, overweight adolescents have a 70 percent chance of becoming overweight or obese adults, increasing to 80 percent if one or more parent is overweight or obese.

Haney said they want to get across to students that they can have happier, healthier and longer lives through fitness.

"You don't get fit overnight. You have to work at getting fit again," she said. "You can do that at your own pace as long as you're willing to come up with a personal plan."

Haney said she is excited about the program and hopeful it will have a positive impact.

"We want these kids to understand that every little bit helps," she said. "If we get a kid to go for a walk 10 more minutes a day than we did last year, that's a plus," she said.

Highmark Healthy High 5 is a five-year, $100 million children's health initiative of the Highmark Foundation.

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