Armstrong Kids Get in Step with Good Health

Tuesday, September 25, 2007 General News
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PITTSBURGH, Sept. 24 Andrew Rea is not your typical6-year-old. The Armstrong County first grader is a devotee of the new foodpyramid and frequently quizzes his parents on their portions of protein,carbohydrates, fruits, and vegetables. Andrew recently took up swimming andsoccer to stay in shape while his 11-year-old sister regularly hops on thetreadmill after school.

It wasn't always this way in the Rea household. Jennifer Rea, Andrew'smother, said the family was more sedentary, watched a bit more television, andcertainly wasn't thinking about healthy portions.

"I can't say we had awful habits but we just weren't cautious abouthealth," said Rea. "Since the HEALTHY Armstrong program began, we've reallystarted to focus on getting in our five fruit and vegetable servings everyday. We've all started walking more and my husband has even lost 60 pounds.There is a new focus in our family."

The Rea family is one of the most visible success stories of the HEALTHYArmstrong program, which stands for Healthy Eating and Active Lifestyles --Together Helping Youth. The HEALTHY Armstrong program is designed to create acountywide approach to rising numbers of overweight children and their relatedhealth risks. Spearheading the effort are program partners Armstrong SchoolDistrict, ACMH Hospital (Armstrong Center for Medicine and Health), ACMHHospital Foundation, Children's Community Pediatrics-Armstrong, and UPMCHealth Plan.

The kickoff of the program will be held at 10 a.m. on Sept. 27 at WestHills Intermediate School near Kittanning. A community wellness walk will beheld at 8 a.m. on Sept. 29 on the ACMH Hospital grounds, also near Kittanning.The walking event will feature representatives from the HEALTHY Armstrongproject and America On the Move in Pittsburgh, a nonprofit initiative designedto promote active living and healthy eating across the country.

An estimated 35 percent of children in the Armstrong School District --about 2,170 students -- have a body mass index or BMI showing that they areheavier than 85 percent of children of their age and gender nationally,according to the first survey of the students conducted last year. Sinceplanning for the program began more than two years ago, the school districthas changed its menu to offer healthier foods and has eliminated soft drinksfrom vending machines in the schools. Most schools in the district now havein-school wellness programs and after-school programs in development.

"The rise of childhood obesity is a significant concern for all of us whoare focused on improving the health of our community," says UPMC Health PlanPresident Diane P. Holder. "We believe Armstrong County's community-basedprogram is an innovative public health approach to not only successfullyaddress the root causes of this problem but to establish a sense of communityownership and pride in the health of its children."

UPMC Health Plan has awarded a $50,000 grant to support the program, whichincorporates the National Institutes for Health's "We Can!" program, an easy-to-use wellness program for parents and teachers. As a result, the NIH hasawarded Armstrong the nation's first designation as a "We Can County." TheAmerican Academy of Pediatrics also awarded a Community Access To Child Health(CATCH) implementation grant for a pilot of the project, which has beenunderway for two years at Elderton Elementary School. The ACMH HospitalFoundation has contributed more than $20,000, and the Armstrong CountyCommunity Foundation $2,500 toward the effort.

The program includes physical activities, snack-making advice from anutritionist, and additional teaching about wellness. The school district isserving less pizza and French fries than before, among many other dietaryimprovements; and, in the winter, many students opt to walk the hallwaysduring recess. Jennifer Rea even organized a year-end event at her


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