March sparks fitness fever
© Prince William TimesFor the hundreds of children enrolled in Kid Central’s after-school program the first day of March ignited a spark, an exciting new fitness program, designed to combat the very real problem of childhood obesity.
Children in the Kid Central program are learning about their health through a program called SPARK. The Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District, Virginia Department of Health partnered with several other local agencies to bring the program to students at the six elementary schools enrolled in the before- and after-school program.
SPARK stands for the lessons of the program: Select fruits and vegetables; Play actively 60 minutes a day; Avoid excess sugar and fat; Reduce TV time and media time and Keep H2O – the way to go!
Across the nation obesity rates continue to rise and regular exercise simultaneously continues to decline.
Locally, the obesity numbers are high compared to national averages.
“Obesity is a serious health concern for children and adolescents, and can lead to diseases, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease,” says David Goodfriend, MD, MPH, and Acting Director for the Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District.
According to the Obesity Survey Research Report completed for the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth, 22 percent of Virginia youth are overweight or obese. Local data from the Culpeper County School system estimates 31 percent are overweight or obese as of the latest body mass index measurement in 2011. Culpeper County also ranks in the top 25 percent nationally for children ages 2-5 years, according to the Virginia Health Department.
Culpeper County’s largest before and after-school care provider, Kid Central, recently decided to become an active partner in the community and help address this growing problem facing children and families.
The SPARK After-School Program was researched and selected with $24,900 in grant funds obtained by Amy Brubaker, a public health nurse with the Virginia Health Department’s Culpeper office.
Brubaker teamed up with Kid Central’s childcare program to implement a plan for the program.
“The goal is to provide a fun, interactive way for children to have an hour of active play five days a week, to promote healthy eating habits, and to decrease kids’ “screen time” – watching TV, playing video games or spending extra time on the computer,” said Brubaker. She submitted the grant that is part of the Healthy Eating and Active Living Program.
According to planners, SPARK was established in 1989 and it offers a wide variety of games that promote motor skills, movement, social and personal skills.
The program which promotes national guidelines of 30-60 minutes of physical activity a day was first taught to Kid Central employees. These newly trained instructors then conduct the SPARK program after school.
“The SPARK program offers a nice mix of movement that lets the children focus on fun rather competitiveness. Last week we received training on how to implement it into our after school program and we will start offering it at all the county’s elementary schools with Kid Central,” said Kid Central team member Dave Richardson, a retired physical education teacher who taught and coached in Culpeper and Fauquier counties for the last 30 years. “I really like Five-Man Baseball and many of the other games we learned from the SPARK instructors. I think this will be a nice program.”
Kid Central’s staff hopes that the program will help create healthier lifestyles.
“The SPARK program promotes the journey, not the destination. It’s great because the children are getting fit without really knowing it --- the games are so fun they forget they’re getting a good workout,” said Rachel Douglas, Program Coordinator for Kid Central. “The activities are fun and timed so it’s not based on who crosses a finish line first. It’s cool because it emphasizes social skills and team work.”
“The program is wonderful because it has so many great components ranging from socialization, health and sportsmanship. When I took the workshop it had me running around throwing rubber discs. I was having fun and exercising. ”
SPARK, according to its website, strives to improve the health of children, adolescents, and adults by disseminating evidence-based Physical Education and after school programs to teachers and recreation leaders serving Pre-K through 12th grade students. Each program fosters environmental and behavioral change by providing a coordinated package of highly active curriculum, on-site teacher training, extensive follow-up support, and content-matched equipment.
SPARK has been honored as an Exemplary Program of the U.S. Department of Education; featured in the Surgeon General’s Report as a “School-based solution to our nation’s healthcare crisis;” earned a “Governor’s Commendation;” and in 2005, was awarded “Gold” (highest ranking) for their elementary and middle school PE programs in an independent study commissioned by the Cooper Institute.
Long term goals for the program include helping kids, parents, schools and after school programs become more physically active each day.
The program was also identified by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) as a national model for programs designed to increase physical activity and it was endorsed in a by the National Academy of Sciences.
For more information on the Healthy Eating and Active Living Program, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/ofhs/prevention/heal/. For more information on SPARK, visit www.SPARKpe.org. Information on Culpeper’s after school program is available at www.kidcentralculpeperva.com.
Marshall Conner is a long-time freelance contributor to Culpeper Times.