Nearly half of Payson’s elementary school students have weight problems, according to data recently compiled by the district.
To help kids learn healthier habits, physical education teacher Donna Moore is starting a coordinated school health committee that will involve the entire district, as well as county health professionals and representatives from parks and recreation.
During this school year, efforts like nutrition education assemblies and health fairs could begin to teach local parents and students how to stay healthy.
“It’s going to be the future of Payson,” said Moore. “There’s no reason we shouldn’t be a healthy community.” Just by taking advantage of Payson’s outdoor amenities and good year-round weather, people can stay fit.
Meanwhile, roughly 44 percent of Payson students from second- through fifth-grade recently measured either overweight or obese, with a 14 percent obesity rate.
Nationally, an estimated 17 percent of children between the ages of 2 and 19 are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I was shocked at how high the overweight and obese statistics are for our second-graders,” said Moore.
In second-grade, already 9 percent of local students fell into the obese category and another 25 percent were overweight.
And in third-grade, 84 percent fell below the healthy zone in a cardiovascular fitness test.
By fifth-grade, 36 percent of the students measured overweight and another 18 percent obese.
Moore said the statistics reflected a national trend.
“We just know nationally that’s what’s happening with our kids,” she said. Kids increasingly live sedentary lives that make them overweight.
An obese person has a body mass index (BMI) of at least 30. The calculation considers a person’s height and weight.
Obese children are more likely to have health problems like high blood pressure, cholesterol or Type 2 diabetes, according to the CDC. Research shows that obese kids are more likely stay obese through adulthood.
“It’s really a struggle for kids,” said Moore. “You definitely have to catch it early.”
However, education marks a key component of making people healthier.
“We have to get everyone in the community involved,” Moore said about the coordinated health council. To promote nutrition, Moore said the county health department will hold assemblies teaching kids good eating habits.
“It’s a lifestyle, so it has to include the parents,” Moore added. Families can take walks together, throw a Frisbee in the park, or hike down one of Payson’s many trails.
“Families have to start exercising and just being very conscious of what they’re putting into their bodies,” Moore said.
“We can teach kids to be fit for life, but if their nutrition is not in place, we’re fighting a losing battle.”
Payson’s school health council arises from a national movement led by the CDC. Arizona is one of eight states that received a federal grant to teach school districts how to start the councils, said Moore. She recently attended a conference to learn more about localizing the effort.
The movement spells out eight components of a healthy school, including education, physical education, counseling for mental health, and incorporating family and the community.
“I think the government is realizing how much we’re putting in our health care system,” said Moore. “If we truly invested in a ground level,” we could reverse the obesity trend.
“Our nation didn’t get in this state overnight,” she added. “Now, we’ve just got to step up and reverse it. It’s going to take time.”