As parents, each of us wants our child to achieve in school. But research shows that if you have a child who is obese or even overweight, his or her chances of being successful at school may be diminished.

As parents, each of us wants our child to achieve in school. But research shows that if you have a child who is obese or even overweight, his or her chances of being successful at school may be diminished.

Several research-based articles recently cited by the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) confirm what educators have long known - physical activity, good nutrition and academic performance are strongly connected.

If your child is overweight, he or she is certainly not alone. In Ohio, 19 percent of children ages 10-17 are obese, which is 3 percent higher than the national average. Child-hood obesity has become a national epidemic. So much so that the American Diabetes Association predicts that one in three children born in 2000 will develop diabetes in their lifetimes. Schools, families and communities must work together to raise healthier kids, because we know that within every child is a mind and heart that long for wholeness.


Schools must promote health.
Student wellness - also referred to as school wellness - has become an important focus of education in Ohio and the nation. After all, most children spend the majority of their daytime hours in school. We know that in buildings where the school climate encourages healthy food choices, good mental health and physical fitness, kids do get the message that healthy choices are the best choices.

Important student wellness and obesity prevention initiatives are moving forward in Ohio. Last year, the CDC awarded Ohio a five-year cooperative agreement to develop and implement a coordinated approach to school health that, among other things, will address student physical activity and nutrition.

The elements of the Coordinated School Health Program include health education, physical education, health services, nutrition services, counseling, psychological services, healthy school environments, health promotion to staff, and family and community involvement.
The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) has just finished working with many groups across the state interested in school wellness to complete a five-year strategic plan for this CDC cooperative agreement.

ODE will do its part to build strong links between schools and community health services, health care providers, after-school programs and, most importantly, students' families. ODE also will continue to support schools in their pursuit of healthy school environments by providing resources, technical assistance, professional development for teachers and assistance in building their capacities for school wellness.

In June, the State Board of Education adopted new statewide physical education standards outlining what students in Ohio schools should know and be able to do in physical education. The new Ohio standards were based on standards drawn up by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education.

The new Ohio standards go beyond simple physical activity. They demonstrate the role of physical fitness in a healthy lifestyle and encourage students to engage in physical activity for health, enjoyment, challenge, self-expression and social interaction.


Parents can help.
Parents and families can play an important role in improving student health and school wellness by establishing an environment of health at home. Just as important, families can find valuable roles to play in Ohio's upcoming school health initiatives. Parents can start by learning about their schools' current school health and fitness policies and practices.

Promoting Healthy Youth: A Parent Toolkit for Enhancing Nutrition and Physical Activity in Schools and at Home is an excellent publication outlining opportunities for parent involvement. Click on the link to the right to download. More information is available on the Ohio Action for Healthy Kids website at http://www.ohioactionforhealthykids.org/.

I encourage you to take a look at the toolkit and talk with other parents about it. As we partner with schools and our neighbors in a community attitude of health, we can blaze healthy lifestyle paths for all of Ohio's children.


Todd Barnhouse is director of the Office of Safety, Health and Nutrition at the Ohio Department of Education.