Health important at AMS

Published 1:41 am Wednesday, October 8, 2008

In 2005, the average rate for child obesity in the U.S. was 17.4 percent. Alabama ranks as the second heaviest state in the nation. These are not flattering statistics, but students at Andalusia Middle School hope to buck the trends thanks to a new healthy choices initiative.

This week, students at Andalusia Middle School received useful information on how to improve their diets. The lessons were part of a special initiative between the school and Andalusia Regional Hospital.

“This is strictly an initiative that Dr. (Charles) Eldridge, Dr. (Gabrielle) Baldwin, John Thomas and myself came up with after we kind of got our heads together,” said John Newsom, director of food and nutritious services at Andalusia Regional Hospital. “We realized that there are a lot of children at risk of unhealthy behaviors and we said, ‘We need to do something to break the cycle.’

“So we figured that a good place to start would be at the middle school and kids in the sixth grade. Give them the information and help them to make better choices somewhere down the road.”

The initiative will continue during the school year with different experts coming to the school to provide extra information about physical activity and other healthy choices. Newsom said that a few of the students have agreed to let the hospital perform some tests to monitor their health throughout the year.

“We’re working with the hospital and these kids who have had their parents sign permission slips for us to do these tests,” Newsom said. “We’re going to do some lab testing, lipid profile checks, cholesterol checks, body mass index and some blood work.

“We’re then going to monitor these kids and graph it out throughout the year.”

One of the important healthy choices AMS students learned about Friday included limiting “screen time,” or time spent on the computer, watching television or playing video games. Newsom said that national averages show that kids have anywhere from five to seven hours of “screen time.” He added the recommended amount of time spent for these sedentary activities is two hours. Sixth grade students are also recommended to get two hours of daily physical activity.

“We talked about the importance of eating breakfast,” Newsom said. “Statistics and literature show that students who skip breakfast become hyperactive and don’t do as well in school. They also then make poor choices at lunch because they’re extra hungry, which contributes to their weight.”

Newsom also instructed the students on the way to make healthy eating choices by utilizing the food pyramid. He explained that it is a good idea to have a combined five servings of fruits and vegetables each day, a diet that is high in whole grains and a diet that limits fats and oils.

“If you take a Krispy Kreme glazed donut and squeeze it, you can get a teaspoon of fat from it,” he said. “That’s one fifth of your daily allowance. Whole grains help them increase fiber in their diet, which is not only healthy but also filling, so they feel full and don’t have to eat junk food later on.”