Routt County schools receive grant to help fight obesity |

Routt County schools receive grant to help fight obesity

Routt County organizations working together to promote healthy living

Jack Weinstein

— Local school officials say a grant awarded to Routt County will help them institute new programs that encourage physical fitness and healthy eating. They say those in turn will make local students better learners.

LiveWell Colorado, a Denver nonprofit group, recently gave the county a $150,000 grant intended to reduce obesity and help residents live healthy lives. 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.

Parnell said Colorado is touted as the leanest state in the United States, which is true for adults, but not necessarily for children.

According to "The Weight of the State," a 2009 report on Colorado's overweight and obesity trends conducted by the state Department of Public Health and Environment, 13.6 percent of the state's 2- to 14-year-olds were obese.

A 2007-08 study posted on the Journal of the American Medical Association's website indicated that obesity rates nationally tripled to 19.6 percent among children ages 6 to 11 since 1980.

Parnell said Colorado is following national trends.

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"Kids are becoming more and more overweight," she said.

She said the funding provided by LiveWell Colorado would combat that. Parnell said Routt County schools would receive money to buy Fitness Gram software.

Soda Creek Elementary Sch­ool physical education teacher Shannon Carlin recently attended a workshop of P.E. teachers and nutritional service directors for each of the county's school districts.

Carlin said the Fitness Gram software, which has been ordered, would allow her to conduct fitness tests and compare Soda Creek students with national averages. She said the tests would measure flexibility, cardiovascular health and muscular strength.

Each Routt County school is pushing to increase physical activity time, Carlin said. She said the schools also are discussing the possibility of moving recess before lunch, based on studies indicating that children learn more effectively if they exercise before they eat.

"It's part of building the whole child, especially in this country with obesity rates skyrocketing," she said. "Early intervention is huge."

To increase fitness in South Routt, Cindy Meade, the district's school nurse, said she has requested funding to institute a staff wellness program. Meade, who attended the same workshop as Carlin, wants to buy pedometers that can be issued to staff to encourage additional physical fitness. Meade said she hopes the increased physical activity of the staff would trickle down to the students.

Meade said healthier children are better learners. And she said the younger children are, the easier it is to teach better habits.

"If we encourage and teach children lifelong skills: staying in shape, eating well, exercising and having fun, we're helping kids become better adults," she said.

Steve Carlson, nutritional services director for the Hayden School District, also attended the workshop. Carlson, who has incorporated healthy lunch choices since he took the job late in the 2008-09 school year, said he has requested funding to buy new equipment for his kitchen.

He said that much of his equipment is old or inadequate and that new equipment would aid in his quest to promote healthy choices to students at an early age.

"It will just open up an array of possibilities for us as far as offering healthy food and fresh food," he said.

In addition to the funding provided to the schools, Parnell said the grant has helped pay for community gardens. She said it would pay to study the feasibility of a Routt County Community Food Cooperative and develop a low-cost or no-cost wellness resource guide for businesses.

Parnell said future goals include extending the Yampa River Core Trail, in addition to projects planned for Hayden and Oak Creek.

"It links to the broad quality of life (issues) in all the communities," Diane Mitsch Bush, county commissioner and chairwoman of the LiveWell Northwest Colorado Steering Committee, said about the grant. "It affects education infrastructure, physical and social (aspects) to help us to be a healthier community."

Supporters of LiveWell

■ Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association

■ Routt County Extension Office

■ Hayden Parks and Recreation Department

■ Steamboat Springs Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Department

■ Yampa Valley Medical Center

■ First Impressions of Routt County

■ Routt County school districts

■ Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association

■ Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.

■ City of Steamboat Springs

■ Town of Hayden

■ Town of Oak Creek

■ Routt County