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Editorial Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, December 1, 2005

"Feeling good, good, good, good"

The great hall at Lynnwood Elementary School was packed with cheering children on Monday afternoon.

Some were so excited they sprang up from their seats on the floor. Others waved their arms and shouted.

As the kids watched the contestants on stage, the tension was palpable. A boy held his breath; a girl bit her nails.

What was all the excitement about"

Must be some popular TV character, or maybe a rock star, or sports idol — right"


One of the most deafening cheers was for — "Apples!"

Another was for — "Granola bars!"

What was going on"

Kids were cheering for fruits and vegetables, literally jumping up and down over healthy snacks and favorite forms of exercise.

Monday was the kickoff for Hooked on Health Week, setting up a school-wide theme for the year, following the Guilderland School District’s lead.

Jami Rubin, an Altamont Elementary School teacher and a Lynnwood parent, moderated the Family Feud-style game show. The Health-o-rama format was adapted from "Altamont Says," which village kids play at their annual end-of-the-year Jelly Bean Field Day, Rubin told us.

Two teams at Lynnwood — the Carrot Tops and the Celery Family — faced off to answer questions like, "What is you favorite fruit"" or "What is your favorite activity in phys ed class"" or "What is your favorite healthy snack to eat""

Earlier, Lynnwood physical education teachers Michael Schaeffer and Don Favro, had surveyed students to find their favorites. Those answers were posted, under cover, on a board on stage, to be revealed when the right answer was given.

Strawberries topped the list of favorite fruits, followed by apples, grapes, bananas, and oranges.

Gymnastics was the top-ranked sports activity, followed by several gym-class games, and basketball.

Fruit was the most coveted healthy snack, followed by trail mix, pretzels, granola bars, cheese, and yogurt.

The game ended with a tied score, but the kids didn’t seem to care about determining a winner. They were all winners.

Their enthusiasm spilled into the hallways and classrooms and was probably carried home.

"We wanted to make nutrition and exercise exciting," said Maureen Silk-Eglit, who has been a school social worker at Guilderland for two decades. Such lessons, while important, are often dull and dry.

The Lynnwood committee on which Silk-Eglit serves is taking a broad look at health — including such things as developing healthy relationships and stress management as well as learning about good nutrition and exercise.

Lessons are being taught in Lynnwood classrooms throughout the week, which will be shared at an assembly on Friday. One teacher, for example, is having her students read food labels and ask, "What’s healthy for me""

A fifth-grade class is working on a skit about overcoming bullying, which will be shared with schoolmates on Friday.

The week’s activities will culminate Saturday in a Hooked on Health Fair at the school that will include a wide range of activities and experts — yoga instruction and massage, tae kwon do and karate demonstrations, lessons from the American Heart Association ("It will be hands-on with a stethoscope," said Silk-Eglit) and the American Diabetes Association, and sessions on family dance.

A psychiatrist who is also a Lynnwood parent will talk about mental health, an occupational therapist will demonstrate stretching, and a dentist who is "good with kids" will be on hand, Silk-Eglit said.

Cornell Cooperative Extension will offer tips on low-fat cooking and advice on prevention of violence as it relates to children’s toys, video games, and television programs. The Albany County Health Department will instruct fair-goers on family disaster preparedness.

"Lynnwood will be ready for dealing with the avian flu," quipped Silk-Eglit.

The event is geared for kids and parents and is open to the community at no charge. It runs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and we encourage attendance.

Silk-Eglit told us, in her 20 years at Guilderland, she’s seen "kids get bigger at younger ages."

We’ve all read the statistics on our nation’s obesity epidemic. During the decade from 1991 to 2001, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Annual Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System recorded a 61 percent increase in obesity. It’s estimated that now over 108 million American adults weigh more than is healthy. And obesity in children is rising, too, as they become overweight at earlier ages. Among school-age children — those between six and 19 — 14 percent are considered overweight or obese, according to National Center for Health Statistics.

Early obesity increases the risk of adult obesity and increases risk factors for cardiovascular disease and insulin resistance, leading to a dramatic increase in type 2 diabetes, formerly called adult-onset diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association.

The Guilderland School District has been proactive about fighting the epidemic, led by its Hooked on Health Committee. The district is introducing healthier foods in its cafeterias, even at a loss in profits, and is instructing students in its classrooms.

Involving families is key. Lynnwood has sent home hand-outs with its students, including "MyPyramid," which is the United States Department of Agriculture’s latest depiction of healthy foods. It replaces the simple icon that informed a generation about a sound diet, with foods to be eaten often at the wide base of the pyramid and foods to be eaten only occasionally at the very narrow top.

The updated version features a cartoonish figure running up steps on the side of the pyramid to emphasize the importance of physical activity and the horizontal blocks have been replaced with vertical swaths for grains, vegetables, fruits, milk, and meat and beans.

A USDA computer website — MyPyramid.gov — stresses "One size doesn’t fill all," and tailors individual eating recommendations to data entered on such things as age and gender.

Some respected groups, most notably the Harvard School of Public Health, have been critical of the new abstract pyramid for not conveying enough information to make informed choices about diet and long-term health. Harvard points out the USDA guidelines influence how billions of dollars are spent each year and the School of Public Health set up its own pyramid based on what it says is sound scientific research rather than being subjected to intense lobbying as the USDA panel is.

The academic researchers at Harvard and the federal panel agree, though, that the intake of trans fat should be as low as possible and saturated fat should be limited, and that Americans should limit sugar intake and eat lots of whole grains. Most importantly, they agree that controlling weight is critical as is physical activity.

And that is the message being sent home to Lynnwood students. But the changes have to be community-wide if they are to make a difference.

"The toys have changed over the years," said Silk-Eglit. "Now the boys talk about video games," she said, rather than organizing pick-up ball games. "The girls used to play hopscotch or jump rope," she went on. "Kids don’t have the same outdoor games they used to. It’s more sedentary, less interactive.

"Before, they used to connect with other kids in their community and be able to work together and cooperate....Kids used to have their own lives. Now it’s more programmed."

During school recess is the only time some kids still have active and interactive play, she said.

What will the Hooked on Health Week accomplish" "I hope families will get more connected with their children on health issues," said Silk-Eglit. "They are the primary educators. They can see that their children have life goals, so they are stronger and feel better mentally and physically."

We all need to make exercise and healthy eating a priority. We can learn form the Lynnwood children.

Their assembly on Monday concluded with a rousing song. "I like the way that I feel when I feel good," sang the children. "I am the star of my body, the star of my mind. I am the star of my life. I take good care of myself, ’cause I know I should. I’m doing just fine. I’m feeling good, good, good, good."

— Melissa Hale-Spencer, editor

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