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New Program Helps Schools Combat Childhood Obesity

RICHARDSON (CBS 11 NEWS) - School districts strapped for cash are finding creative ways to fight childhood obesity. United Way of Metropolitan Dallas and The Cooper Institute are honoring schools in North Texas by offering incentives to tackle the growing epidemic.

Forty-percent of school children in Texas are overweight or obese.

"Research now supports the link between physical fitness and classroom success," United Way CEO Jennifer Sampson explained.  "With children in school seven hours a day, five days a week, it's vital to shape an environment to move them toward both physical and academic success."

The program is called Healthy Zone.  It provides teachers with approximately $8,000 in funding for educational tools and physical education equipment to create fun ways to stay in shape--and get kids active.  Schools selected also receive nutritional training to improve food choices in the cafeterias.

"We can't just rely on fitness," said Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper. "Fitness alone is not going to solve the obesity problem with have with our American children and American adults. It has to be a combination of proper nutrition and exercise."

The program kicked off in North Texas last year with 12 schools. It was such a success, 20 new schools are on board this year.

The big announcement came Tuesday at Arapaho Classical Magnet, a school that is in the program and now has a jump rope team thanks to the new initiative.

6th grader Amaris Carter was inspired to join the team after her aunt recently suffered a heart attack

"To prevent having a heart attack, I know you need to eat healthier, stay fit and exercise a lot to keep your heart healthy," said Carter.

Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman has teamed up with the United Way and the Cooper Institute to help North Texas schools make positive changes. The father of two says, as a parent he knows the challenge

"First we have to do our jobs as parents, but that in itself isn't enough because our kids spend so much time at school," said Aikman.

And while the Healthy Zone initiative begins with the children, the mission is to provide nutritional and fitness help to the entire family.

Nine-year-old Ben Seider is learning a lot through the program and has taken it to heart.

"My parents were thinking about it and then I encouraged them," said Seider.

Together the family started eating more fruits and vegetables and attending "fitness nights" at the school.  Ben's father lost 32 pounds, his mom lost 15.

And that makes Ben feel proud.

"It makes me feel really happy about my family."

New Healthy Zone Schools to be recognized for standard-setting healthy practices include:

  • Puster Elementary, Lovejoy ISD
  • Minshew Elementary, McKinney ISD
  • Roy Lee Walker Elementary, McKinney ISD
  • Shands Elementary, Mesquite ISD

New Healthy Zone In-Training Schools recognized for committed progress include:

  • Lake Ridge Elementary, Cedar Hill ISD
  • Central Elementary, Dallas ISD
  • Felix G Botello, Dallas ISD
  • MB Henderson Elementary, Dallas ISD
  • Sudie L. Williams Elementary, Dallas ISD
  • Kimberlin Academy of Excellence, Garland ISD
  • Finch Elementary, McKinney ISD
  • McClure Elementary, McKinney ISD
  • Wolford Elementary, McKinney ISD
  • Florence Black Elementary, Mesquite ISD
  • In Range Elementary, Mesquite ISD
  • Jay R Thompson Elementary, Mesquite ISD
  • Thomas Elementary, Plano ISD
  • Dorris A Jones Elementary, Rockwall ISD
  • Grace Hartman Elementary, Rockwall ISD
  • Utley Middle School, Rockwall ISD

Arapaho Classical Magnet is one of four schools being promoted from 'In-Training' to full Healthy Zone School status as it excelled last year in health promotion policies and practices, including adding a salad bar and replacing ice cream and sweets with frozen fruit and frozen yogurt.  The school also hosted family fitness nights, field days, pedometer challenges and participated in several community health programs.

Schools selected as part of a competitive application process participate in the program for at least three years.  Additional public, private and charter schools interested in being part of the Healthy Zone program can register for a Healthy Zone account at to access resources, share ideas, and connect with peers.  The application process for the 2013-2014 school year will open in January.

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