COLUMBIA — Benjamin Elmore, 8, wakes up at 6:30 every morning, eats breakfast and gets dressed according to the weather before making the ten-minute bike ride to school.
Elmore bikes to school, even in rain and snow, and has for nearly two years. His mother, Janelle Elmore, said her son is an "all-weather biker." Elmore, a third-grader at Good Shepard Lutheran School, was named PedNet Coalition's Commuter of the Month for November.
On Tuesday, PedNet, in partnership with the city and MU, announced Columbia was chosen for a national program to combat childhood obesity. The organization was awarded a $400,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to encourage physical activity and access to healthful, affordable foods for children and families.
Although money from the grant will not go directly to Columbia Public Schools, Jack Jensen, assistant superintendent for elementary education, said the grant will benefit schools by encouraging physical activity and healthy eating outside of class.
The grant money can only be used for outside-of-school activities that are typically funded by the school's parent teacher associations, PedNet and other local organizations.
"Childhood obesity is an issue we need to address," Jensen said. He said he feels the schools are always looking for ways to encourage healthy lifestyles for students.
Amy Ewing, health and fitness committee chairwoman for Russell Elementary School’s Parent Teacher Association, said it’s important to promote fitness and healthy lifestyles to students at a young age.
“I think fitness is an important part of life for families,” Ewing said. The committee coordinates monthly fitness activities for students and their families.
Past events have included line dancing, roller-skating and yoga. September’s half-marathon, in which students could walk or run and earn a medal, drew the highest attendance of about 100 participants.
“I think the events bring a lot of families closer and give a chance for families to be active together,” Ewing said.
Russell's activities add to in-school efforts to tackle a national concern: The number of overweight children is increasing dramatically and quickly. According to the American Medical Association, numerous ways to reach young people are becoming available, and professionals need to explore every alternative approach to educating and guiding children and adolescents on healthy lifestyles.
The National Association for Sport and Physical Education recommends that children participate in 60 minutes of physical activity at least four days per week.
The school is doing its best to encourage students to eat healthfully and stay active, said Andrew Wright, physical education teacher at Fairview Elementary School.
“We try to give kids ideas like taking a walk around the neighborhood or going out to one of the many trails in Columbia,” Wright said. He said that children today seem “bigger than they were” when he was growing up.
Wright tells his students that it’s never too late to start living a healthy lifestyle. He encourages parents to teach their children that healthy eating and exercise go hand in hand.
Nutrition Services Director Laina Fullum agrees that food is a part of weight control as well as exercise.
According to report by the AMA, schools are the second largest venue where students eat their meals. About 9,700 meals are purchased a day at Columbia Public Schools. Meals adhere to U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines and also the advanced level of the Missouri Eat Smart guidelines.
Teachers can ask nutrition services staff to visit their classes and educate children on how to make wise food choices such as fruit, vegetable and whole grain consumption.