Healthy Lifestyles/Fit for Life
Owensboro Public Schools, 1335 W. 11th St., Owensboro, KY 42301, (270) 686-1000
Back in the 1980s, Owensboro was dubbed the Fast Food Capital of the World after a research study found that it consumed more take-out food per capita than anywhere else. In 2000, another study found, probably not coincidentally, that 60% of the local population was obese or overweight. So in the last few years, the Owensboro Public Schools have taken on the challenge of educating the next generation of Daviess Countians on how to make healthier choices when it comes to food and fitness.
Under the banner of Healthy Lifestyles/Fit for Life, the schools have taken a number of steps to improve nutrition and exercise opportunities for their students. And the students are taking lots of steps, too: Several elementary kids have logged more than 100 miles in a single school year at the walking track behind Newton Parrish Elementary Schoolby showing up at 7:30 am to spend half an hour walking before school starts.
Other Fit for Life initiatives include swimming lessons for all 3rd graders, at facilities supplied by the local HealthPark and YMCA; cardio-vascular fitness centers where middle and high school students can work out, built with funding from the Owensboro Medical Health System; climbing walls at several schools; and clogging and other dance lessons. PE classes that once tended to divide kids into athletes and wallflowers have been overhauled to emphasize individual fitness and encourage all students to set and work toward personal goals.
Meanwhile, Healthy Lifestyles reforms extend the effort to the cafeterias, where fried foods have given way to fresh vegetables and healthy snacks.
Though everyone involved knows that Healthy Lifestyles/Fit for Life is a long-term effort that may take a generation to show results, the early response has been encouraging. Students have been enthusiastic, with swim classes boasting 100% attendance and even the youngest children asking for salads. Teachers report that they are seeing positive changes in the lifestyles and health attitudes of their students. And the Owensboro effort has gotten national attention, including a 2004 Magna Award from the American School Board Journal and the National School Boards Association.