Healthy Lincoln-Healthy Community

Lincoln schools making gains in keeping students fit

By Julie Anderson / World-Herald staff writer
February 28, 2014

Obesity rates have dropped and fitness levels have increased for the third straight year among Lincoln Public Schools students in kindergarten through eighth grade, according to a new report.

Overall, the number of children considered obese has dropped from 17.2 percent in 2010-11 to 15.8 percent in 2013-14, with gradual decreases every year in between, according to data released this week by the school district and the Partnership for a Healthy Lincoln.

Over the same period, the number of students who passed the district's aerobic fitness test increased from 68.4 percent to 70.7 percent.

The increase in fitness is particularly exciting, said Michelle Welch, the district's fitness facilitator, because previous research has tied fitness to better performance on math, reading and science tests.

The district and Creighton University last year published research indicating that fit kids were much more likely to meet standards on state math and reading tests than nonfit kids.

“If we can get kids to be fit,” Welch said, “they do better academically. Every family can get behind that message.”

Bob Rauner, director of the Lincoln partnership, said he was especially encouraged that the improvements in healthy weight and fitness are occurring across ethnic and socioeconomic lines.

“We are seeing significant improvements in both minority and low-income populations, which is especially important since studies show these populations are at highest risk,” he said in a statement.

The report comes in the wake of new federal data earlier this week that showed a 43 percent drop in obesity rates nationally among children ages 2 to 5 in the past decade.

The study, hailed as another encouraging sign in the fight against a leading health problem, reported that just over 8 percent of children ages 2 to 5 were obese in 2011-12, down from nearly 14 percent in 2003-04. Rates for the broader population remained the same with about 17 percent of youth 2 to 19 and 35 percent of adults considered obese.

Welch said the Lincoln district's incoming obesity rate for kindergartners is about 12 percent, a number that hasn't changed much over the past four years.

What the district is seeing is that children are doing a little less sitting in class than they used to, she said, so that number doesn't grow once they start school.

The district's goal is two physical activity breaks a day — one can be recess — for elementary students. Elementary kids have P.E. class only once every five to seven days. Middle-school students have P.E. every other day. That and a number of other gradual changes, not one single program, have combined to create the healthier school environment.

Other changes include fine-¬tuning school lunches, classroom rewards and classroom celebrations as well as neighborhood fundraising efforts that have created walking tracks and outdoor learning areas.

Welch said she doesn't believe the community has seen the end of the trend. “There are many more steps we can take to improve wellness for our community and our schools,” she said.

Original article--Omaha World Herald