Analysis finds fitness progress
Kearney Public Schools elementary students go through the salad bar during lunch. Many elementary schools have added salad bars, eliminated unhealthy snacks and implemented exercise programs to improve the health of students.
KEARNEY - Kearney Public Schools is seeing progress after giving schools healthy makeovers.
Over the last five years, KPS has seen a 13 percent decrease in student obesity.
"We've had some good progress and good results," said Physical Education Program grant coordinator Cari Franzen. "The district as a whole, I would say, has made some small steps in introducing programming and strategies and policies to help provide for a healthier school environment."
Three years ago, KPS received a Carol M. White Physical Education Program grant from the U.S. Department of Education.
Funds have been used to purchase equipment, to implement programs, and for support staff and teacher training and education.
University of Nebraska at Kearney professor and KPS wellness program evaluator Kate Heelan presented a PEP grant progress report to KPS Board of Education members at Monday's meeting.
Heelan analyzed data for the last five years, although changes have been made in the last three years since the district received the PEP grant.
Heelan said the 13 percent decrease in obese students means 14 percent of elementary school children at KPS still are considered obese.
However, there haven't been huge changes in the past five years at the secondary level.
"We've at least maintained at the secondary level, which is something positive," Heelan said.
There has been an 8.3 percent decrease in the number of students who have a body mass index percentile greater than the 85th percent - a 4.8 percent reduction since the PEP began.
"Not only have I looked at the prevalence of overweight and obese, but have we impacted how much weight they're gaining?" Heelan said. "Because we might have big kids, which is fine, but can we stop how much they're gaining each year?"
Heelan said it's considered normal for elementary school children to gain about seven pounds each year. Children who are considered overweight gain about 10 pounds each year, and children who are obese gain 15-18 pounds a year.
Heelan also tracked the progress at each school.
"Some schools we've seen an increase, but the number of schools we've seen a decrease is outstanding," she said.
Glenwood saw a 25 percent decrease, Meadowlark saw a 23 percent decrease and Park saw a 27 percent decrease in the prevalence of obesity.
The types of changes in those schools were analyzed to determine how the schools were successful in reducing obesity.
Five years ago, Emerson Elementary School had the highest prevalence of obesity in the district, Heelan said.
The school saw a 17 percent decrease in the prevalence of obesity and no longer has the most obese students.
Changes that were made include implementing structured recess, providing fruit and vegetable snacks, starting a running club, eliminating snack sales, and having physical activity in the classroom.
Heelan said many schools are succeeding by reducing the amount of weight students are gaining.
Between 2010-2011, 72 percent of Park Elementary School students maintained a normal body weight.
"That's outstanding," she said.
Park eliminated snacks, has only nonfood-related fundraisers and has a running program.
The PEP grant provided more than $300,000 a year to help the district increase physical activity and educate students about nutrition. The three-year grant would have ended this year, but KPS will carry over unused funds to continue the program until May 2012.