Obesity necessitates health initiatives for Illinois schools

By Kyle Rich

In grade school, students are now taught more than just the standard reading, writing and arithmetic. Thanks to federal wellness programs, students are also learning how to be healthy.

Chicago Public Schools recently updated its Local School Wellness Policy and will join other urban school districts this year in revisiting these policies overall, as outlined in an Oct. 24 press release.

CPS will receive $4.4 million from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the next two years, which will go toward providing healthful food, requiring recess for elementary students, implementing nutrition education and ensuring students are physically active, according to the

press release.

The CDC fund will be part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Healthy Chicago Initiative implemented in Aug. 2011 that aims to improve the overall health of  Chicago residents.

But outside of the CPS, other schools have recognized the benefits of healthy eating and activity

in schools.

Dan Schweers, superintendent of District 59 schools, explained why he wants his students to be healthy.

“A lot of kids today are dealing with obesity, and also diabetes is on the rise,” Schweers said. “None of that should be happening.”

Elementary school students at the Ridge Family Center for Learning in Elk Grove Village, Ill. one of the schools in Schweers’ district, learned Nov. 6 that good health

garners more than physical and mental benefits.

The school won a national essay contest sponsored by the Fuel Up to Play 60 initiative, an in-school nutrition and physical activity program that invited 73,000 schools nationwide to submit essays describing how the initiative has inspired better fitness and

nutrition. The NFL is a founder of the

program and for winning the contest, students were visited by members of the Chicago Bears for a day of healthy activity and snacking, according to Mark Leitner, executive vice president for the National Dairy Council, which co-sponsored the contest.

“It really helps the kids perform better in school if they get more physical activity and nutrition,” Leitner said. “They are in [class] more and not sick in the nurses office, which makes for better-rounded kids.”

Schweers expressed his pride in his students and praised his district’s initiatives to implement good health.

“We’ve put a lot of focus in our [physical education] classes and also encouraged our teachers to give students fitness breaks,” Schweers said.

Schweers said these health initiatives are more important than ever because electronic entertainment is making children inactive.

“People my age can relate to staying outside all day until dark, where kids these days [are] sedentary,” Schweers said.

Members of the Bears agreed, and recalled their active childhoods.

“We didn’t have the luxury of all the entertainment and video games,” said Bears starting cornerback Charles Tillman. “Our parents would have to call us in once the streetlights came on.”

Backup quarterback Jason Campbell admitted that though electronics are fun, students should go outside and be active.

“You can’t get better by just sitting on the couch,” Campbell said. “I always liked to go outside and get dirty.”