FIT Kids program celebrates 10th year of helping make kids healther

One of the activities the FIT Kids program does every spring is to get the fifth grade students from Kennedy Elementary, Trinity Lutheran School and Manistee Catholic Central to take a healthy exercise walk that culminates with a flash dance on River Street.

One of the activities the FIT Kids program does every spring is to get the fifth grade students from Kennedy Elementary, Trinity Lutheran School and Manistee Catholic Central to take a healthy exercise walk that culminates with a flash dance on River Street.

MANISTEE — For the past 10 years Dorothy Batzer has been directing the FIT Kids program for West Shore Medical Center which is geared toward improving the health of Manistee County children.

The program focuses on the risk  factors that lead to cardiovascular disease and shows children proper ways to eat better, exercise more and how to live a healthier lifestyle. FIT Kids partners has partnered with the MSU Nutrition Educator for the past five years and together they visit fifth grade classrooms throughout the county show them how to achieve that healthier lifestyle.

Today, Batzer talks with the News Advocate about the program and why it has been such a success.

News Advocate: What is the FIT Kids program and how long has it been in existence?

Batzer: The FIT Kids Program is an educational awareness intervention that focuses on the risk factors related to cardiovascular disease (CVD). CVD which includes heart attacks and strokes has been for many years and continues to be the number one cause of death in the United States and Manistee County. This is the 10th year of offering this program to all the schools in the county and our fifth year partnering with a nutrition educator from MSU.

It occurs in two parts:  Part one is the actual student assessment which includes collection of questionnaire information and actual biometric measurements including height and weight (for calculating a body mass index score); blood pressure and pulse; and blood cholesterol and glucose measurements, Part two is an eight-week program in which I and MSU’s nutrition educator spend 40 minutes in each county fifth grade classroom to present information regarding the importance of physical activity and sharing information with the kids about how to make healthy food choices.

Participating in the first part of the program – the actual assessment – is optional but by the time I complete a 30-minute introductory presentation to each classroom, the kids understand the idea that it is important for them to know what their personal risk factors are for developing this disease so that they can play an active role in taking control of those risk factors.

News Advocate: Who puts on the program and how is it funded?

Batzer: West Shore Medical Center sponsors and coordinates the pieces of the program. The program is offered, free of charge, to all students who opt to participate. The first part of the program is funded solely by the hospital. The costs for the eight-week program are funded by both the Medical Center and MSU. In years past, the program has received some small grants from both local and national sources but currently, the hospital and MSU pay for the costs associated with their respective pieces of the program.

News Advocate: What schools and grade levels take part in the program?

Batzer: We are involved with every school in the county at the elementary, middle and high school levels. The assessment part of the program is offered initially to all county fifth graders. If they participate in fifth grade they have the opportunity to be reassessed again in eighth grade and then again in 11th grade.

News Advocate: What are the results and what feedback have you received from the program and are you seeing an improvement when you run the tests?

Batzer: The goal of the program is to help kids and families stay on the right track towards or maintaining heart health by giving them the opportunity to obtain updated individual health information relating to the risk factors for heart disease. Every student/parent at every grade level who participates receives an individual report of their child’s results. A 15-question heart health knowledge test is a key component of the program and all fifth, eighth and 11th graders take this test. Only fifth graders are involved in the eight-week classroom program.

Our data shows some downward trending of overweight/obesity in county fifth graders over the past five years. However, one area of the county continues to have an upward trend in the percentage of fifth graders that are overweight and obese and we are focusing more resources in that geographical area through more educational support and projects.

The data also indicates that the number of fifth grade kids who have one or both parents in the household that smoke remains alarmingly high at over 40 percent every year consistently. The 2014 adult smoking rate in Manistee County is reported at 31 percent; the current state rate is 20 percent.

On an individual basis, we hear success stories every year from parents whose child has made some real changes in their lifestyle choices based on either the results of their assessment or what they have learned in the eight-week program. With some limitations in school-based education in the areas of nutrition and physical activity, teachers in all of the schools have welcomed this program into their classrooms every year over the years. Some of the tools that we have implemented with teachers have been used year-round and not just during the eight weeks that we are in class with them.

We have less years of collected data regarding the higher grades and not every student who participated in fifth grade opts to participate in the higher grades. We can look at the results better on an individual basis than as a subpopulation group. Our results show that some kids improve the number of CVD risk factors, some stay the same and some have more. The process of puberty adds another dimension to the data results as does the fact that soda and pizza seem to become nutritional ‘staples’ in the higher grades. Students are also required to spend more time in school sitting and utilizing tech time and there is also a large group of students who do not participate in after-school physical activity as they move into the higher grade levels.

News Advocate: Do you plan to continue to the program?

Batzer: We are full steam ahead moving forward with our program this year. Required paperwork has been distributed to potential student participants at all grade levels. Dates have been set for the student assessments in all schools and the fifth grade eight-week programs, which will begin mid-January, have been scheduled with teaching staff in all schools. Consideration of the program’s viability status is determined each year by the hospital. It is a vital piece of community outreach, directly impacting over 500 students and families each year.

News Advocate: Is there anything you would like?

Batzer: Regarding cardiovascular disease, statistically we know that six of every 10 people will die of this disease if we as parents, families and community don’t take the steps to help get it moving in the opposite direction – this will be the first generation of kids that will not outlive every previous generation.

We can’t begin to build a healthy community if we don’t start with the kids. Identification and treatment of kids at risk for premature heart disease offers the greatest impact in controlling morbidity and mortality associated with CVD. Knowing if your child could be at risk is the first step. Doing something about it should be next.

I would encourage parents of kids this year who have been offered the opportunity to participate in this free assessment to complete the required paperwork and return it to their school contact by the due date given. The information that you receive from your child’s results could be that important first step.

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Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com.

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