By DEBORAH BEHRENDS
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — As the National Dairy Council sees it, childhood obesity is a serious issue, with some experts warning this is the first generation that won’t outlive their parents. It says overweight kids often become obese, unhealthy adults.
It’s serious, but solvable. Because 50 percent of a child’s daily energy intake is consumed at school, the council believes the solution begins there. “We talk to a lot of teachers about making nutrition part of the classroom experience,” said Jenni Purcell, director of communications for the American Dairy Assoc. of Indiana, Inc.
In Indiana alone, the program provides grant money to approximately 1,700 schools. Purcell said grants are available up to $4,000.
In a nutshell, Fuel Up to Play 60 is an in-school nutrition and physical activity program launched by the National Dairy Council and NFL, with support from USDA. It is designed to engage and empower youth to take action for their own health by implementing long-term, positive changes for themselves and their schools.
Students are provided with tools and resources and work with adults in their schools to implement healthy changes. Purcell said the program is unique because it involves youth, provides a comprehensive approach with powerful partners, is customizable, provides local solutions to national issues and has massive reach.
Just one of the program’s numerous success stories is Ridge Family Center for Learning, a K-5 grade school in Elk Grove Village, Ill. The school has participated in Fuel Up to Play 60 since 2009 with the leadership of physical education teacher Will Hogan.
Along with Hogan being named program director of the year for 2011 by the Midwest Dairy Council, the school was chosen to be in a nationally televised commercial for the program.
“We entered the Casting Call Challenge, with the kids writing about how Fuel Up to Play 60 has inspired the school to be a healthier place,” Hogan said.
As the national winner, the school won an Xbox gaming system and a visit from Chicago Bears football players Jason Campbell, Roberto Garza and Charles “Peanut” Tillman.
“They were there for about three hours that day. We had originally planned to have physical activity stations outside, but it rained that day, so we were inside. We used every nook and cranny in the school,” Hogan said with a laugh at the memory. “It was probably better that way. It was an amazing experience for the kids and the staff. It was such a cool experience.”
Football players aside, he said “the excitement is there for them. It’s a great feeling seeing the changes the program is making in the students’ lives.”
Hogan said the program has transformed the way the students approach eating and physical activity and, in turn, they put pressure on their parents to get involved. He said it wouldn’t be as successful without the support of the entire staff.
“Teachers have brought the program into the classroom with things like three-minute brain breaks and exercising as a whole school in the morning. We also have after-school programs that focus on adding extra minutes of activity,” he said.
“It’s all about building good habits early. The kids are taking responsibility. They are so proud to show their lunches with fresh fruits and vegetables.”
Program coordinator of the year for this school year is Ray Arceo, a physical education/health teacher at Miguel Juarez Middle School in Waukegan, Ill.
“Our kids love Fuel Up to Play 60,” he said. “They come to me asking ‘can I help? Can I be involved?’ It’s all about the students being empowered to eat right and get active.”
Hogan said they have a number of ways to quantify the success of the program, including an increased enrollment in after-school programs, an increase in the number of students taking the pledge and increases in units of milk and student lunches sold.
Purcell offered some national numbers to show the success of the program:
•It reaches more than 70,000 private and public schools across the country, impacting more than 36 million youth
•More than 100,000 students are actively engaged online
•86,000 school stakeholders are engaged and reached through monthly communications
•9,985 program advisors have been recruited
•There is active involvement by all 32 NFL clubs
•A wide range of partnership support has been achieved, including health and wellness organizations, government, media and business
•Public endorsements have been offered by well-known national leaders and government officials
For more information on Fuel Up to Play 60, visit www.fueluptoplay60.com