Childhood obesity rates plummet in Redondo Beach schools – Daily Breeze

Several fourth graders at Lincoln Elementary School in Redondo Beach gathered in the school’s garden and enthusiastically chomped on vegetables, illustrating the farm-to-table and healthy lifestyle approach embraced by their peers and school and health district officials.

Rather than filling up on sugary drinks or sweets, officials at the Redondo Beach Unified School District, Beach Cities Health District and parent-volunteers have teamed up to educate students about health eating habits.

“I used to hate salads so much,” Lincoln fourth-grader Dalon Wingifield said on a recent Friday in the school’s vegetable garden. “When I came to this school they fixed a salad [for me] and I liked it so much I asked for thirds.”

The results tell the story. Childhood obesity in the school district plummeted from 20 percent in 2007 to 6.4 percent last year and test scores have improved, said school district Superintendent Steven Keller.

Los Angeles County has a childhood obesity rate of 22.4 percent.

Lincoln Elementary School hold vegetables grown in the garden of the Redondo Beach school. The Redondo Beach Unified School District drastically reduced childhood obesity through its LiveWell Kids nutrition and physical exercise program. Photo: Louis Casiano
Lincoln Elementary School hold vegetables grown in the garden of the Redondo Beach school. The Redondo Beach Unified School District drastically reduced childhood obesity through its LiveWell Kids nutrition and physical exercise program. Photo: Louis Casiano

The students, like most children, didn’t magically decide one day to engage in healthy living.

In 2006, officials from both districts were surprised to learn that one in five Redondo Beach elementary school students were considered obese, a rate higher than national average at the time.

Alarmed by the findings, officials from both agencies decided to prioritize health and teamed up to reverse the trend.

They launched LiveWell Kids, a nutrition and physical education program for students in kindergarten through fifth grades taught by 400 trained parent-volunteers and the schools. The lessons are reinforced throughout the district’s middle and high schools.

“From a public health standpoint, we know that an obese child is 60 percent more likely to be an obese adult,” said Amy Steward, Health District director of youth services. “That’s why it’s essential that we start early to create these healthy habits.”

Out went sodas and candy bars from school vending machines and in went water and low-sugar drinks. Fruits and vegetables were marketed to students during lunch times, emphasis was put on walking to school, eight minutes of morning exercise was added to the start of the school day and a garden were produce is grown and maintained by the students was added to each elementary school.

Lessons include how food is marketed and the sugar content of popular soda brands.

“I playfully call it soft indoctrination into this way of life,” Keller said. “Every year you’re getting a new batch of kids coming in and the kids that are moving up have already been trained in this way of thinking of diet and health and nutrition.”

The parent-volunteers who teach several nutrition and gardening classes each year. In 2010, the program was expanded to preschoolers.

“It’s an all day-long process from when they walk out the door to when they leave the school campus,” Steward said.

On Friday, the Lincoln fourth-graders were munching on peppers, cucumbers and squash grown in the school’s garden. Each grade in the school tends t its own garden and corps.

LiveWell Kids has made deep strides, Keller said, but getting everyone on board wasn’t easy. Some parents had reservations and others questioned the way body mass index – measurements which analyze weight versus height ratios – were taken.

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