Health education gets a federal boost

Schools step up to the plate and take an active role in Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" initiative.
Schools are encouraged to take an active role in Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" initiative.

Roughly a third of American children are overweight, researchers say, and 17 percent are obese—a condition that increases their risk of getting diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and other illnesses.

Many health experts point to the amount of “screen time” that today’s students are logging as a key contributing factor in the child obesity epidemic. Now, backed by a campaign launched by First Lady Michelle Obama earlier this year, some schools are using the same technologies that have many kids glued to their cell phones and iPods for hours at a time as useful instructional tools in their health-education programs.

To encourage students to adopt a healthier lifestyle, one recent lesson at Aaron Academy, a private special-education school in New York, had students research the nutritional content of popular food items online, then download this information to their mobile computers.

Barbara McKeon, director of Aaron Academy, said part of the school’s mission is to provide a 21st-century learning environment, and teachers embrace technology in all curriculum areas.

Each student receives a MacBook and an iPod Touch, both of which are used for everyday instruction.

“Students did research on food labels, so they went to [the food companies’] web sites … and looked at the information, [then] recorded that information on their MacBook,” said McKeon, explaining the lesson on nutrition.

Other teachers are showing health-related videos from companies such as BrainPOP, Discovery Education, Library Video Co., New Dimension Media, and others, to underscore lessons in a way that is much more powerful than reading about the content in a traditional textbook.

Noting that students tend to be more engaged in the content when watching video, Allison Arunski, marketing manager for Cerebellum Corp., said her company has been creating educational videos since the early 1990s.

The company produces DVD-based video vignettes that generally last seven to 12 minutes, with the aim of presenting real-life scenarios and posing questions about topics that include health, nutrition, and body image. The DVDs come with teachers’ guides to facilitate conversations sparked by watching the videos.

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