Feature Article - September 2010
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Kids Get Active

After-School Programs to the Rescue

By Deborah L. Vence

Parks and Recreation Programs Do Work

To help fight the growing problem of childhood obesity, a camp program in the summer of 2009 proved to have enough muscle to sway a group of 96 kids in Milwaukee into eating healthier and exercising more.

Milwaukee Recreation Services coordinated a nine-week trial of the Säjai Foundation's Wise Kids program, which is designed to teach children between the ages of 6 and 11 about healthy living. The study was conducted by Säjai Foundation, Penn State University and the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) in 49 U.S. cities.

"We partnered with the NRPA, and we were able to offer grants to 49 different agencies running the Wise Kids program across the country. Milwaukee was selected as one of the sites. We ran the Wise Kids program with about 100 kids," said Melissa Hanson, CEO and president of Säjai Foundation, a national nonprofit organization based in Hamel, Minn., that is committed to working with local communities to educate children about how to live a healthier life.

Cecelia Edmond, Wise Kids supervisor for Milwaukee Recreation, added that the program was designed to help kids to understand the process of choosing the right food, and how certain foods cause them to gain weight.

"A lot of the schools don't have PE teachers and all of that anymore, due to funding cuts. So, [in some cases], a lot of physical education teachers have two schools [they teach at]," Edmond said.

Wise Kids program activities entailed, in part, teaching children how to eat healthier. One of the activities had participants cutting up vegetables to make a salad.

"In the Wise Kids program, kids do everything from learning to read [nutrition labels], to an activity called sugar scientists where they actually read labels to find the grams of sugar then measure that amount of sugar in teaspoons into a test tube so they can see for themselves how much it is. The activity is really exciting for them," Hanson said. "They also make posters, play games like Food Pyramid Bingo and try to plan a healthy meal for home or 'make-over' a restaurant menu to include healthy options or physical activity suggestions."

"In terms of physical activity in Wise Kids, they do everything from games like Sharks and Minnows to using pedometers to playing soccer with a beach ball. The goal is to be active for 30 minutes each session and we recommend that they meet two times per week. At 30 minutes, they are halfway to the 60-minute-a-day goal," she said.