Our View: Children at heart of obesity education | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: Children at heart of obesity education

— Routt County has received a grant to promote physical fitness and healthy eating, and we hope that translates largely to developing healthy habits in children.

The $150,000 is from LiveWell Colorado, a Denver nonprofit group. It's the second year of a seven-year grant that will provide more than $1 million to the county, said Barb Parnell, community coordinator for LiveWell Northwest Colorado, which was formed by the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Asso­ciation to receive and allocate the grant funding.

LiveWell Northwest Colorado's mission is to "reduce obesity in Routt County by introducing healthy eating and active living choices and empowering residents to select them."

The grant has received support and buy-in from all Routt County municipalities and a variety of local agencies and businesses. Part of it will go to the schools of Routt County, and we think that's invaluable. Although obesity in children and adults is less of a problem in active Northwest Colorado than elsewhere, it's an issue we can't ignore.

When we initially read about plans for the grant, we had questions about the choices to spend money on software to monitor student fitness levels, new equipment for the school kitchen in Hayden and the idea to buy pedometers for South Routt district staff members.

But all of those steps are likely to have a positive impact on children's fitness, Parnell said.

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For example, the software, called Fitness Gram, measures the children's body mass index, endurance and flexibility.

"Kids will be able to see here's the healthy zone and here's where I sit in terms of the healthy zone," Parnell said. "They'll be able to set their own goals."

She said the schools hope to provide the data to parents, as well, to help them monitor their children's health.

Parnell said Nutritional Services Director Steve Carlson in the Hayden district is passionate about providing healthy food made from scratch and that replacing outdated equipment would help him do so.

The pedometers in South Routt are part of a plan by school nurse Cindy Meade to institute a staff wellness program. Parnell touted two potential positive outcomes.

"One is that they really tend to promote those things they're doing to the kids," she said, thereby encouraging them to be healthy. Another positive outcome is that the district will save on health care costs if it invests in staff wellness programs, she said.

Parnell also has worked with Routt County physical education teachers to promote best practices. She said the standard best practice is to provide 150 minutes of P.E. per week for elementary-age kids and 225 minutes per week for middle and high school students.

"Most schools are significantly less than that," she acknowledged.

One challenge is that the LiveWell project aims to create sustainable programs, which means it can't necessarily pay a staff member to teach more physical education. Parnell said her committee was working on creative solutions — one possibility includes providing before- or after-school physical education — that could be implemented in coming school years.

We encourage the LiveWell group to continue to seek out those creative solutions. One that it's working on, Parnell said, is getting greenhouses for each school. That could allow children to grow produce that could then be served in the cafeteria, she said.

"I know that some people are so excited about that because they think kids don't know where their food comes from, so this is a way we can integrate the curriculum, as well as provide some healthy food for the school lunches."

We urge those administering the funding to continue to see the future of our children — and their lifetime health — as their overarching goal.