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Fixin' Healthcare

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Lifestyle Chronicles - NGA Wellness Where We Learn - State Initiatives

Previous posts have introduced and outlined the National Governors Association Healthy America initiative that was launched the weekend of February 25-26 at their winter meeting in Washington DC. Healthy America is supported by materials prepared by the Health Division of the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices.

Specific projects by states address each of the action items for governors. The list of projects is derived from materials supplied by the NGA Center for Best Practices. A project is listed only once even though it might apply to more than one action item. It is not a comprehensive list but it is representative. I hope you will be impressed with the momentum that is building at the state and local level to promote healthy lifestyles and prevent disease. The governors deserve our encouragement and support.

The reviews and analyses of twenty years of research were reported by Howard Taras in the Journal of School Health in 2005. This demonstrated substantial linkage between obesity, poor nutrition, physical inactivity and poor academic performance. Other studies have linked school performance with physical fitness and chronic health conditions.

The purpose here is not to further describe the problem but to list projects and efforts by states to find solutions and relieve the problem.

Wellness Where We Learn - Actions For Governors
Action 1: Encourage parental engagement in student health.
  • Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle released an educational guide for children and their parents designed to motivate parental commitment to nutrition and physical activity. It was mailed to parents in the state and distributed through schools and clinicians.
  • Several of Iowa's schools allow children to use an electronic swipe card to purchase food from the cafeteria. Parents can monitor purchases via a website that also allows them to prohibit purchases of specific food items. This low cost tool has additional features, including the ability to track data for both individual students and entire schools, as well as eliminating some of the social stigma for low-income kids participating in free-linch programs.
  • Coordinated Approach To Child Health (CATCH) in Texas is an alliance of parents, teachers, school staff, community partners and child nutrition personnel. Its objective is to teach children and their families how to be healthy throughout their lifetimes. The University of Texas Health Sciences Center at Houston developed the program, which incorporates a classroom curriculum, school nutrition guide and family activities to reinforce healthy behaviors.
  • Texas requires school health advisory committees in elementary, middle and jubior high schools in each district and provides technical support for implementation through regional education service centers funded by the state. Parents must account for at least six of the 14 memberships seats of local councils.
Action 2: Conduct yearly assessments of individual student wellness.
  • FitnessGram is a comprehensive health assessment tool that constitutes a child's age, height, weight and physical fitness by using measures such as sit-ups, push-ups and flexibility. Children can track their progress electronically and assess their fitness against national performance measures.
  • Arkansas Governor Mike Huchabee signed a 2003 law that requires annual assessment of BMI for all school students. The BMI measure is reported to the students and parents, and a nongovernmental research group collects the data to assess the scores over time and by region.
Action 3: Promote regular physical activity during their school day.
  • Michigan created a school-based program to help guide health policy changes, including strong recommendations of 150 minutes per week of physical education in elementary school and 225 minutes per week in middle and high school.
  • In Minnesota's Red Lake District several schools serving Native American children have instituted regular physical activity, including a 20-minute walk every day. These efforts have been the most successful, when conducted during the school day.
Action 4: Support local school districts in efforts to develop healthy food policies.
  • Pennsylvania contracted with Penn State University to survey the state's high schools about the presence of healthy foods and analyze the policy and financial impacts of their sales. The study results help Pennsylvania schools make informed decisions about their policies and schools can use examples from fellow schools statewide to find ways to improve student health.
  • Orgeon public schools conducted a survey of soft drink contracts with schools. The analysis of the contracts found that incentives and revenues are more lucrative for vendors than they are for school districts, and result in less income per student than expected. The results pointed to some weaknesses in the contracting practices and opportunities for schools and districts to protect their funding streams while improving health options.
    See http://www.communityhealthpartnership.org.
  • The Washington State Department of Health developed and disseminated a guidance document for assessing opportunities for wellness initiatives in schools and other settings. The guide provides program information from many public and private sector efforts and supplies tools for adopting wellness initiatives in schools.
Action 5: Use local chefs and farmers to offer attractive, healthier options for students.
  • The New York City public school system hired a team of private sector professionals, including a professional chef to revitalize the menu offerings, the lunchroom environment and the business culture of the food service program. The new program relies upom a cadre of kitchen managers with local control using business model requirements for providing attractive, healthy menu options.
  • The British Prime Minister recently announced a wholesale redesogn of the public school food system in the United Kingdom. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver was a major friving force behind a nationwide initiative to completely revamp the food service program by making more healthy options available to every student each day.
This completes the series reporting on the National Governors Association meeting that presented their initiative for Healthy America. However, the work is just beginning and all of us will be needed to create Healthy America. Please let me hear from you with any ideas or additional local and state projects that should be added to the list. My email address is marcusnewberry@charter.com.

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