Students watch their steps with Coca-Cola’s help

Walking program at middle school is praised, but some question Coke’s role.
Tuesday, May 11, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:41 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Lange Middle School students will turn walking into a competitive sport this week.

The school launched a Coca-Cola sponsored program called “Step with it!” at an assembly Monday morning. The program gives students and faculty “stepometers” — small pedometers that measure numbers of steps — and it gives rewards ranging from bottles of water to calculators to classes that walk the most.

The program sets a goal for everyone to walk 10,000 steps — about five miles — a day. Each person also received an activity packet with recommendations for getting more exercise.

“I think it’s great because kids are not getting enough exercise,” said Joanne Daurenheim, a paraprofessional at the school. “This would have motivated me when I was a kid because it’s fun to see how many steps you can go and try to get more.”

Ken Ash, director of the Show-Me State Games, spoke at the assembly and drew attention to how much time people spend in front of computers or television screens.

“Kids your age have a difficult time staying in shape because you just don’t exercise enough,” Ash said at the assembly.

Questions and concerns

The Coca-Cola sponsorship, however, raised questions from people who worry about junk food and commercialization in schools. Coca-Cola, though, was mentioned only minimally at the assembly and its brand name wasn’t published on any of the items given to students.

“Is Coke merely trying to protect its profit and create brand loyalty among impressionable children?” asked Ken Green, a member of a local coalition against junk food in schools.  “In their presentations, does Coke inform the children of the value of healthy food and beverages as well as the dangers of high-sugar, low-nutrient Coke products?”

Last spring, the anti-junk food coalition successfully lobbied the school board to sign a directive to remove unhealthy items from vending machines in junior high and middle schools, and it will continue to ask for the removal of junk food from all schools.

Tom Schlimpert, principal at Lange, said Coca-Cola bent over backward to keep its name out of the program, and he believes the “Step with it!” program will improve health and fitness in the school.

Al Green, manager of the Columbia branch of Coca-Cola, said commercializing products in schools is not what this program is about.

“We’re part of the community, and we want to give something back,” he said.

Daurenheim saw some irony in the fact that the program is sponsored by Coca-Cola, but she thinks the good outweighs the bad.

“We know soda is not the healthiest thing, and maybe they are trying to make their image better,” she said, “but at least they are doing something positive, which is better than nothing.”

Students at the assembly appeared enthusiastic about the donated stepometers and about the competition, and gym classes performed two line dances to show that fitness can be fun. Sixth-grader Anya Trass said she’s excited about using her pedometer.

“I guess I’ll try to run more and stuff,” she said. “I like exercising because it is fun.”

Coca-Cola launched the program in more than 250 U.S. schools last year. Al Green said he would like to see the program implemented in all of Columbia’s public junior high and middle schools. He said it will be launched at Smithton Middle School next week.

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