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Dallas Teacher Helps Kids Fight Fat

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By Haley Thayer

Yup, it’s true. We’re are all getting fat.

The American population is the most obese in the world. Roughly two-thirds of Americans are over-weight and about 30 percent are considered clinically obese. The America Obesity Society lists Dallas as one of the “Top 10 Overweight Cities” in the United States.

But one teacher in the Dallas school district is trying to change that.

For the last 22 years, Sharon Foster, the Physical Education teacher at Bowie Elementary in South Dallas has transformed the idea of PE classes. Foster has incorporated many health programs into her curriculum, including FitnessGram, Coordinated School Health (CATCH), NFL Play 60, and Alliance for a Healthier Generation, which teaches the students how to eat healthy and stay active.

Students at Bowie Elementary, like at other DISD elementary schools, are required to complete 135 minutes of PE a week. This allows every Bowie student to spend three days a week with Foster.

“The kids here enjoy my class and I never have any discipline problems. It creates a fun atmosphere every day at school,” said Foster.

Today, it costs $147 billion to treat obesity-related diseases in the United States. If these numbers increase, half of the U.S. population in 2020 will be obese and the annual cost will rise to $3.35 trillion.

And yet, American schools continue to cut programs that could help the obesity problem. Twenty-two percent of schools nationwide do not require students to take physical education classes. But the Dallas ISD has kept physical education classes as a requirement, even when the state dropped it as a requirement.

Foster said that the majority of the children at Bowie come from low income families. The school is almost 96 percent Hispanic and many of the parents do not speak English.

The children bloom and become more self-assured in her classes, Foster said. She points to the 5th grade girls as one example of how her programs are working

“The 5th graders are moving on to middle school after this year and I tend to see that most of the girls I teach, out of this grade, are quite self-conscious of their image and weight,” she said.

Foster teaches these girls how to stay in shape and eat healthy without succumbing to eating disorders. One way she has done this is through her running program, which meets before and after school. She implements different types of running activities, such as tag games, to make it fun and interesting.

Keeping the parents involved with their child’s progress is crucial to living a healthy life. This is why Foster began the running club. The club meets before and after school and also attends 5k races around Dallas. Students’ parents are invited to attend the races.

Rachel Gonzales, is a parent of four Bowie students and a computer teacher at the school. All four kids are in the running club. Gonzales said it is her children’s favorite part of the day because once they are home they are confined to their apartment.

“My children enjoy the competition and the relationships they have formed with the other kids. Along with physical activity, they have learned to eat healthy. We have started to cook as a family,” said Gonzales.

Foster believes part of her success is due to the varied programs she uses to keep kids interested and active.

Through the programs CATCH and Alliance for a Healthier Generation, Foster has taught all the children at Bowie what they should be eating on a regular basis.

Nutrition intake is the most influential category in losing weight. Food in schools tend to be what is cheap and what will sell, according to reports.

A recent national health study found that American 14-18-year-olds consume 34 teaspoons of sugar a day. That is 12 more teaspoons than an average American adult and triple the amount that a 14-18-year-old should naturally consume. This leads to a nutritionally depleted diet that, over time, can destroy every organ in the body and can be related to many health diseases, especially diabetes.

FitnessGram, developed by the Cooper Institute of Dallas, is a testing tool that is used to measure a student’s aerobic capacity, body composition, muscular strength, endurance and flexibility. In 2007, the Texas Education Association selected FitnessGram as the statewide fitness assessment tool. All public school students in Texas, grades 3 through 12, participate in this testing annually.

Through Fitnessgram, Foster keeps track of the student’s grades, monitors their attendance to class and analyzes their fitness reports. The reports are also sent to the parents to keep them involved in their student’s activity.

The shorter amount of time children live an unhealthy lifestyle, the easier it is to reverse it, say health and fitness officials. Don Disney, the director of the youth initiative at the Cooper Institute of Dallas and the national program director of FitnessGram, has been dedicated to children’s health for many years.

“Health is personal,” he said. “These behaviors and attitudes of children must change through nutrition and fitness programs at the schools.”

Haley Thayer, 20, is a sophomore at Southern Methodist University majoring in Journalism and minoring in Art History.

Categories: Health, Recent Posts, SMUSN
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  • MyFiDallas

    Coach Foster, thanks for all you do for Dallas kids! You are such an inspiration! – From your friends at the Dallas Mayor’s Youth Fitness Initiative

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