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We Are Public Health, March 2014.

We Are Public Health 2014-03

This story features the work of Idaho’s South Central Public Health District.

We are public health.
We work with schools to get kids moving.

In 2012, more than one third of American children and adolescents were overweight or obese. An important part of obesity prevention is to teach children how to make healthy choices for themselves. In this effort, teachers, child care providers, and public health professionals have discovered a natural area for collaboration.

Susie Beem, Health Education Specialist for the South Central Public Health District in Twin Falls, Idaho, coordinates a local chapter of an organization working for the health of children, Action for Healthy Kids. When Beem learned of a mini-grant opportunity from Twin Falls Health Initiatives Trust in 2012, she applied for, and received, funding to offer $12,200 in mini-grants to schools and child care facilities in Twin Falls County. These funds ended up supporting 11 different projects in the Twin Falls area.

“Too many of today’s children are unhealthy,” Beem says. “Some are not getting enough to eat, while others might not eat enough of healthy, nutritious foods. In addition, many kids don’t exercise the 60 minutes a day minimum that is recommended. Through the mini-grant funding that these local schools and daycares received, they were able to start making some healthy changes in children’s lives.”

Carol Hill, physical education teacher at I.B. Perrine Elementary in Twin Falls, Idaho, belongs to the South Central Idaho chapter of Action for Healthy Kids. When she learned about the mini-grant opportunity from Beem, she quickly submitted her application. She says, “Most public school teachers are always looking for extra funding for their classroom activities.”

Hill wanted to add GeoMotion mats to her rotation of physical activities. Not only do the mats help kids move in ways that are fun, they also can be used to teach reading and math. (The mats are made of sturdy vinyl and resemble an alpha-numeric phone pad.) Hill teaches the use of the mats along with music. “The students love it,” she says “It’s fun. They forget that they are working on academic skills as they move.”

She sees about 750 students per week from kindergarten to fifth grade.

“Eleven years ago, when I first began teaching PE, I was definitely concerned about childhood activity levels,” Hill says. “I’m still concerned, but I am also encouraged. It seems to me that America has made an effort to get the message out to people that children need to move. I know that my students are very aware that fitness is important.”

The GeoMotion mats are just part of the curriculum. Hill introduces her students to a variety of activities so that they can find something that they enjoy, while realizing the sky’s the limit. This year, she introduced square dancing, and tennis will happen when the weather gets warmer. Although Hill makes sure that students also know that they don’t need anything special in terms of equipment or organized activity to exercise. “If nothing else, I tell them that they can always go for a walk or do jumping jacks. Anything that makes their heart beat fast.”