By Megy Karydes
Children spend 1,000 hours a year and consume as many as half their calories at school, making classrooms ideal places to teach healthy lifelong habits, according to Action for Healthy Kids, a Chicago-based national organization.
Noticing childhood obesity growing and realizing that schools were a great place to educate children on healthy habits, David Satcher, MD, PhD, the 16th surgeon general of the United States, led visionary school health leaders to start the nonprofit organization in 2002. More than a decade later, through training, funding, wellness programs and a shared determination to see all children become healthy, successful adults, Action for Healthy Kids, alongside 29,000 schools throughout the country, is working toward that goal.
A network of more than 85,000 volunteers and advocates work with the organization on different levels. “Many are educators, from classroom teachers to P.E. teachers to food-service staff to school nurses to principals and superintendents—and many of them are parents as well,” says Rob Bisceglie, CEO of Action for Healthy Kids and father of three school-aged children.
The organization’s website matches volunteers with schools that can use their time and expertise to implement wellness programs. Also, anyone can browse the site to find ideas and inspiration for making small or big changes in their own schools.
He shares the story of Julie Fisher, mother to a second- and a fourth-grader at Chicago’s Drummond Montessori School, who worked with Action for Healthy Kids to establish a school wellness team. Also, at Little Fort Elementary in Waukegan, school nurse Mary Colver is working to transform her school into one where kids love getting physically active every day because she knows that physical activity impacts students’ abilities to concentrate and learn. She started a 5-minute dance-movement program at the beginning of each day to increase physical activity. Additionally, her school now has classroom brain breaks—time for relaxation, a before-school exercise club, a half-mile concrete walking path and a family fitness night.
“Everyone has a role to play in fighting undernourishment and childhood obesity,” Bisceglie says, “and [in] helping to create healthier school environments where kids can learn lifelong healthy habits and be prepared to succeed academically.”