Students at Grant Elementary School are already singing the praises of physical fitness, months before they’ll see the effects of a grant awarded to the city.
They helped open a school assembly and news conference Thursday morning with a new jingle, singing: “When you bike, walk or wheel, see how good you feel!”
In the Grant auditorium, a coalition of city and community groups announced the five-year, $200,000 grant from Active Living By Design, a program sponsored by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Columbia’s proposal, “Bike, Walk, & Wheel: A Way of Life in Columbia,” was one of 25 selected to receive the grant. A total of 966 applications from across the country were submitted.
PedNet’s Ian Thomas will direct the project, along with eight city departments, MU’s Sinclair School of Nursing and the Columbia Public School District.
The program will target a four-square-mile region bounded by Providence Road on the east, Interstate 70 on the north, and Stadium Boulevard on the south and west. The area includes Grant, Ridgeway, Russell Boulevard and West Boulevard elementary schools, along with West Junior High School.
National statistics show almost three quarters of students who live less than a mile from school travel by car or bus, Thomas said. A proposed parent-led “walking school bus” would work like a car pool pickup, without the gas.
Health and fitness adviser Tom LaFontaine will lead a self-challenge program that will encourage students to keep track of how many minutes of physical activity they engage in throughout the week. Children registered for the program also will be able to earn credit by working on neighborhood improvement programs, including trash cleanups and landscaping.
In some ways, the program is an extension of ongoing PedNet efforts to promote physical activity. By improving infrastructure and school programs, organizers hope the project will improve the health of Columbia residents, especially children. Thomas said the Mayor’s Bike, Walk and Wheel Week impressed the grant committee.
More than half of all Americans fail to exercise enough, Thomas said, and they are susceptible to increased risk for heart disease, diabetes and strokes. The number of overweight children has tripled since the 1970s, Thomas said. Meanwhile, fewer than 10 percent walk to school, he said.
Columbians are right to be concerned about statistics that show escalating numbers of overweight children and adults, said Deborah Markenson, administrator of the Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion section of Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services.
“From a public health perspective, we think all strategies to get people moving are great,” Markenson said.
In order to truly target the problem, school programs could help to improve the statistics.
“We’re going to have to look at a broad range of services,” Markenson said.
According to the Missouri Obesity Resource Data Bank, one in five Missouri adults is considered obese, and more than 50 percent are overweight. Missouri ranks ninth in the nation for the prevalence of obesity.
Also, Missouri ranked fifth for the prevalence of overweight children in a 2001 Youth Risk Behavior survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of 22 states surveyed, 12.8 percent of Missouri high school students were overweight.
In addition to tracking students’ fitness and progress, the Bike, Walk, & Wheel program will include a public health and safety communications campaign.
“In addition to improving the health of Columbia’s children, we hope, along with 24 other Active Living communities around the country, to start changing the culture a little bit, so as a society we value the opportunity to walk to visit a friend, to ride a bike on our local errands, to get to know our neighbors a little bit better,” Thomas said.
All 25 grant recipients will meet yearly to share information on the program’s progress.