Our school is participating in this program. Kindergarten to seventh grade student are taking par, plus our teachers.
Published: Wednesday, September 25, 2013
With wrist bands, coalition gears up for healthier kids
By Amy Watkins
HBJ Freelance Writer
MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — Thousands of fifth graders throughout Snohomish County will soon be wearing devices that track physical activity. It's all part of a Snohomish County Health Leadership Coalition initiative to promote better health and lifelong healthy habits.When most adults think about exercise, they imagine working out in the gym on a treadmill or lifting weights.
The accelerometers, called Sqord PowerPods, track duration and intensity of movement. About 7,500 of these waterproof accelerometers will be supplied to schools beginning Oct. 8 and 16 for the voluntary "Gear Up and Go!" program.
"We'll be distributing to nearly 80 schools now and upwards of 250 classrooms," said Scott Forslund, director of the Snohomish County Health Leadership Coalition. "Every single school district in the county is in. We have been on a blistering pace for this."
The PowerPods, made by Sqord Inc., based in Durham, N.C., will measure any kind of movement from a vigorous sports practice to walking the dog, weeding the garden or washing dishes.
Students who wear the gadgets will sync their accelerometers with Sqord SyncStations and log on to the Sqord website to track their progress and view their earned points and rewards. Students will create a "PowerMe" character, see leader boards and be able to send encouraging messages, called "Squawks," from a fixed list to other players.
The Snohomish County Health Leadership Coalition's mission is to foster community vitality, competitiveness and prosperity through better health and health care value. It was started a year ago when Forslund, who is director of strategic communications for Premera Blue Cross, invited leaders from across the county to meet and discuss ideas around creating a more sustainable health care system.
By the end of the first meeting, the group decided to establish two initiatives, Forslund said. One would move an indicator of long-term community health and the other would move an indicator of the community's health associated with a problem that creates acute health care costs for families and communities. The 12-member coalition steering committee agreed that both initiatives would need to produce results within 18 months from the point that projects began and they were to be taken on with an 18-year vision.
In the next couple of months, the committee defined its youth initiative with a goal to help reverse the downward trend of youth exercise and activity by creating the nation's first online, real-time map of physical activity and measuring and tracking results.
"If you believe the studies that something like one third of kids are overweight or obese, it does impact a significant portion of youth," said Scott Washburn, coalition steering committee member and chief executive officer of YMCA of Snohomish County. "We want to get in front of that issue. The goal is to create a positive environment to see where activity is taking place."
Sqord SyncStations will be placed in schools and in YMCAs throughout the county. Participating fifth graders will also receive a free YMCA membership and access to special YMCA programming for the school year, Washburn added.
Snohomish Health District statisticians and epidemiologists are going to review data generated from the Sqord bands, said Gary Goldbaum, Snohomish Health District director.
"We won't have access to individual results but in the aggregate we'll be able to see how students are doing and be able to focus in on what seems to help the student get more physical activity," he said.
Results could show what influences movement in and outside of schools and how social, economic and environmental determinants affect the levels of physical activity. Other questions surround whether students at schools where physical activity is required get more exercise; if recess before or after lunch makes a difference in levels of activity; if teacher involvement in the program helps to motivate students; and if taking advantage of memberships at the YMCA changes activity levels.
"There are a lot of questions that we have but at the end of the day I think it's a terrific opportunity and it is something everyone agreed is worth doing in our community," said Goldbaum, who is also a coalition steering committee member. "This is just one example of coming together and doing something that will improve the health of the entire community."
Another possible, positive result from the Gear Up and Go! project is if fifth graders score higher on the Washington State Healthy Youth Survey as sixth grade students, said Gary Cohn, superintendent of Everett Public Schools and coalition steering committee member. The survey has shown a steep decline in activity between the fifth and sixth grades, he added.
"If students establish healthy habits and lifestyle activities in fifth grade, those habits will likely last into their teens and beyond," Cohn said. "We know healthy bodies and healthy minds go hand in hand."
The coalition has also started a palliative care initiative that aims to make sure those with life-threatening illnesses receive care that is in line with their values. So far, work on the initiative has included discussions and training for health care providers led by physicians from The Everett Clinic and community education sessions.
"This is a difficult topic but this is making it easier to sit down and talk about it early on," said Jim Steinruck, chief executive officer of Senior Services of Snohomish County and member of the coalition steering committee. "There are other parts of this county that need to have these discussions… We're trying to take this out to the public."
Both of the coalition's efforts have projected costs of about $450,000, said Forslund. About 90 percent of the cost is coming from Premera Blue Cross, Providence Health and Services in Washington and Oregon, The Everett Clinic, and Verdant Health Commission. Part of the coalition's plan is to make sure both initiatives become self-sustaining.
"From the beginning we are looking at how this can be community-based self-sustaining," Forlsund said. "If at end of the day all we've created is another suck on our community's health care system and costs, we've failed and we're designing this is a way that that won't happen."
The coalition and its work along with the collaboration it has achieved from different organizations is unique, said Preston Simmons, chief executive officer of Providence Regional Medical Center. The initiatives are bookends in life, he added, with one focused on combatting youth obesity, a precursor for other possible health problems later in life, and the other addressing care in the final stages of life.
"We'll be looking at how this is making a difference and what the programs are we want to add in to this as we continue to evolve," Simmons said. "We want to be the healthiest county in the country."
To learn more about the Snohomish County Health Leadership Coalition, visit www.snocohealthleadership.org.
But for kids, exercise means playing and being physically active. Kids exercise when they have gym class at school, soccer practice, or dance class. They're also exercising when they're at recess, riding bikes, or playing tag.
The Many Benefits of Exercise
Everyone can benefit from regular exercise. Kids who are active will:
have stronger muscles and bones
have a leaner body because exercise helps control body fat
be less likely to become overweight
decrease the risk of developing type 2 diabetes
possibly lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels
have a better outlook on life
Besides enjoying the health benefits of regular exercise, kids who are physically fit sleep better and are better able to handle physical and emotional challenges — from running to catch a bus to studying for a test.
The Three Elements of Fitness
If you've ever watched kids on a playground, you've seen the three elements of fitness in action when they:
run away from the kid who's "it" (endurance)
cross the monkey bars (strength)
bend down to tie their shoes (flexibility)
Parents should encourage their kids to do a variety of activities so that they can work on all three elements.
Endurance is developed when kids regularly engage in aerobic activity. During aerobic exercise, the heart beats faster and a person breathes harder. When done regularly and for continuous periods of time, aerobic activity strengthens the heart and improves the body's ability to deliver oxygen to all its cells.
Aerobic exercise can be fun for both adults and kids. Examples of aerobic activities include:
Improving strength doesn't have to mean lifting weights. Although some kids benefit from weightlifting, it should be done under the supervision of an experienced adult who works with them.
But most kids don't need a formal weight-training program to be strong. Push-ups, stomach crunches, pull-ups, and other exercises help tone and strengthen muscles. Kids also incorporate strength activities in their play when they climb, do a handstand, or wrestle.
Stretching exercises help improve flexibility, allowing muscles and joints to bend and move easily through their full range of motion. Kids look for opportunities every day to stretch when they try to get a toy just out of reach, practice a split, or do a cartwheel.
The Sedentary Problem
The percentage of overweight and obese kids and teens has more than doubled over the past 30 years. Although many factors contribute to this epidemic, children are becoming more sedentary. In other words, they're sitting around a lot more than they used to.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average child is watching about 3 hours of television a day. And the average kid spends 5½ hours on all screen media combined (TV, videos and DVDs, computer time outside of schoolwork, and video games).
One of the best ways to get kids to be more active is to limit the amount of time spent in sedentary activities, especially watching TV or playing video games. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children under the age of 2 years watch no TV at all and that screen time should be limited to no more than 1-2 hours of quality programming a day for kids 2 years and older.
How Much Exercise Is Enough?
Parents need to ensure that their kids get enough exercise. So, how much is enough? All kids 2 years and older should get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise on most, preferably all, days of the week.
The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) offers expanded activity guidelines for infants, toddlers and preschoolers:
Minimum Daily Activity
No specific requirements
Physical activity should encourage motor development
30 minutes planned physical activity AND 60 minutes unstructured physical activity (free play)
60 minutes planned physical activity AND 60 minutes unstructured physical activity (free play)
1 hour or more
Break up into bouts of 15 minutes or more
Infants and young children should not be inactive for prolonged periods of time — no more than 1 hour unless they're sleeping. And school-age children should not be inactive for periods longer than 2 hours.
Raising a Fit Kid
Combining regular physical activity with a healthy diet is the key to a healthy lifestyle.
Here are some tips for raising fit kids:
Help your child participate in a variety of activities that are age-appropriate.
Establish a regular schedule for physical activity.
Incorporate activity into daily routines, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
Embrace a healthier lifestyle yourself, so you'll be a positive role model for your family.
Keep it fun, so you can count on your child to come back for more.