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Pediatric Fitness Clinic and DPI Team Up for Childhood Fitness

Young boy exercisingMADISON - Building on recent success in Madison-area schools, UW Health's Pediatric Fitness Clinic is joining with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to make physical education classes more effective and middle school students healthier.
 
The two organizations have formed the Wisconsin Partnership for Childhood Fitness (WPCF) and are using a $446,568 grant from the Wisconsin Partnership Program (funded by the Blue Cross conversion) at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health to develop a comprehensive program to assess and improve childhood fitness.
 
"The grant will help establish a way of measuring fitness levels in middle schools throughout the state," says Aaron Carrel, MD, medical director of the Pediatric Fitness Clinic. "This will be a way for the state Department of Health as well as the DPI to continue to monitor physical education, just like they have ways of monitoring math scores. We will be establishing a statewide database to measure and track fitness changes."
 
The project responds to the alarming escalation of childhood overweight and obesity in recent years. In a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey published to its Web site March 6, the Centers for Disease Control reported increases in overweight in all age groups. Data from 2003-2004 shows 18.8 percent of children ages 6-11 years in the United States are overweight, compared to 4 percent in 1974. Adolescent (ages 12-19) overweight increased from 6 percent in 1974 to 17.4 percent in 2003-2004.
 
To counter the short- and long-term health problems associated with pediatric overweight and obesity the American Academy of Pediatrics says "regular physical activity should be consciously promoted, prioritized, and protected within families, schools, and communities."
 
That's exactly what Dr. Carrel hopes to accomplish with the Wisconsin Partnership for Pediatric Fitness.
 
The Seeds of a Program
 
Dr. Carrel's involvement with physical education classes dates back to 2003, when he worked with Stoughton's River Bluff Middle School to adopt a lifestyle-based curriculum in its gym classes. Sessions focused on activities like mountain biking or rollerblading - things they enjoyed and that kept them on the move.
 
"More time is devoted to physical activity," says Dr. Carrel. "Small changes had a big impact. (The classes) might have smaller teams, or they might play basketball with two balls. Kids felt better about themselves and better about gym class."
 
And their health improved. Dr. Carrel evaluated the students at both the beginning and end of the semester and found participants had significant reductions in body fat and improvements in cardiovascular fitness and fasting insulin, an indicator of diabetes.
 
The goal of the WPCF grant is to extend creative fitness ideas to all Wisconsin schools and provide a way to track and monitor student fitness levels.
 
The Approach
 
Each year of the grant program has a specific objective. During the first year, Dr. Carrel hopes to establish a proven, valid way of measuring fitness in children of middle school age. Historically, body mass index (BMI) has been the accepted method, but some of the grant funds will be used to purchase Fitnessgram®, an online fitness assessment tool that measures aerobic capacity; body composition; and muscular strength, endurance and flexibility.
 
The WPCF program will be extended to 13 Wisconsin districts during the grant's second year. A Web site will be established to offer suggestions for curriculum improvements and methods of measuring fitness levels.
 
"Our goal is to get a nice variety of kids across the state and have those schools measure fitness and send (results) through the Web site," says Dr. Carrel. "Then we will have some levels to compare and see how parts of the state compare with other parts."
 
In year three, the WPCF program will expand to all interested state middle schools. Dr. Carrel envisions the Web site as a key and cost-effective source, with schools logging on to get the latest in gym class activities and sending their students' fitness information to the Pediatric Fitness Clinic for evaluation.
 
It's a fitness solution that eliminates two significant impediments to communication - distance (schools need only an Internet connection) and cost (participation will be free to all Wisconsin middle schools).
 
"We felt this project would deliver a much needed assistance to schools," says Brian Weaver, a comprehensive school health program consultant at DPI who was involved in the grant proposal. "Especially small schools that may not have the resources to purchase a (comparable) tool."
 
"The schools are saying, 'We know kids need to be more active but we don't know how, and we can't afford the tools to measure it,' " says Dr. Carrel. "We'd like to provide the infrastructure so schools can do it."
 
The first phase of the program will be launched this summer, and Dr. Carrel thinks process and method will improve as more schools get involved.
 
"We'll be seeking feedback from the teachers on how easy it is to use and how useful it is," he says. "At the same time we'd like to start looking at establishing some norms for middle school children and try to figure out if it's possible to measure improvements. Can we measure it and is it in a useable format?"

Date Published: 01/29/2008

News tag(s):  pediatric fitness

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