Obesity Rates Drop and Fitness Improves for LPS Students

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Lincoln Public Schools students in kindergarten through eighth grade are weighing in at healthier weights and testing more physically fit – for the third year in a row, according to a report released this week by LPS and the Partnership for a Healthy Lincoln (PHL).

The number of students who are obese – kindergarten through eighth grade – has fallen from 17.2 to 15.8 percent, Bob Rauner, director of PHL, and Michelle Welch, LPS wellness facilitator, told the Lincoln Board of Education this week.

Rauner says the district has made changes to the student's environment. He says it starts with the teachers setting good examples for the kids.

Staff say students are getting more active not only in their physical education classes, but also the classroom and recess.

In addition, the number of students who passed the school district’s aerobic fitness test has increased from 68.4 to 70.7 percent, according to Rauner and Welch, who pointed out this improvement is especially important because studies show students who pass the fitness test perform better on math, reading and science tests.

“This success is a result of the combined efforts of LPS and several Lincoln organizations,” said Rauner, who has been working with LPS curriculum specialist Marybell Avery to track these results for the last five years. Collaborating community organizations include Teach a Kid to Fish, El Centro de Las Americas, the Malone Center and the Lincoln YMCA.

Rauner said he is especially encouraged to see that improvements in healthy weight and fitness are occurring across ethnic and socioeconomic lines. “We are seeing significant improvements in both minority and low-income populations, which is especially important since studies show these populations are at highest risk.”

Welch said the school district is excited “to see a step wise shift toward a culture of wellness and that our data demonstrates its impact. Our district-wide quarterly wellness challenges have helped unify efforts across our school community and ensure education of students, their families and our staff about their daily choices.”

She said that no single program has created this type of healthier school environment, but instead a combination of gradual shifts and efforts such as daily recess and physical activity breaks at the elementary level – as well as fine-tuning the school lunch program, classroom reward choices and classroom celebrations.

She also cited school and neighborhood fund-raising efforts that have created walking tracks and outdoor learning areas that beautify and benefit the community. This year Randolph and Zeman elementary schools have added walking tracks with Eastridge and Hartley elementary schools close to their fund-raising goals.

Other community-school collaborative projects include Teach a Kid to Fish’s grants with Safe Routes to School to encourage more students to walk or ride their bikes to school, and the BodyWorks program to help children improve their nutrition. LPS’s Community Learning Centers (CLC) and lead agencies have also been working to train CLC staff on the SPARK curriculum. SPARK is a curriculum for after-school programs that adds more physical activity during the time students attend their programs.