NEW ORLEANS - It's Back to School time again and as more schools reduce or eliminate physical education programs in lieu of academic curriculum, Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans is taking P.E. to schools with its Mobile Fitness Unit called On the Move. Ochsner's Elmwood Fitness Center developed a community outreach program to help fight a growing global epidemic: 32 percent, or nine million American children, are now overweight. On the Move is equipped with child-sized workout equipment, staffed by trainers, a nutritionist, and an Executive Chef, and is provided at no cost to New Orleans-area schools.
On the Move will be launched at Orleans and Jefferson Parish public schools in lower income neighborhoods. "We chose these schools for their diversity and location. Children of lower income families tend to suffer from weight problems more often," explains Michael Heim, On the Move and Youth Fitness Manager at Elmwood Fitness Center. "Our goal is to expose elementary students to activities early on that promote healthier behaviors."
According to a national survey, nearly 22 percent of Black and Hispanic kids, ages four to 12, are overweight or obese. And, the 2000 census indicated that the New Orleans population is 67 percent African American and has experienced an increase in Hispanics moving to the area.
Dr. Douglas Moodie, MD, Chairman of Pediatrics at Ochsner, explains that the driving force in developing On the Move was, "the growing childhood obesity epidemic and continual reduction of P.E. classes in schools. We're headed in the wrong direction in our fight against pediatric obesity, particularly in Louisiana, where we have some of the highest adult and pediatric obesity rates and we're one of the least healthy states in the country." Moodie adds that "many schools have just 15 minutes two days a week for P.E. class, and a lot of schools don't have recess so children are sitting in classrooms for several hours without moving."
Physical education programs vary from school to school and "On the Move offers supervised physical activities much like what kids would do in a school gymnasium, and in other cases, the program serves as a supplement to P.E. classes and extracurricular activities," says Heim. "Currently, we have 10 strength training machines and hope to add child-sized spinning bikes," says Heim. The bus also includes two flat-screen televisions and air conditioning.
On the Move includes strength and cardiovascular "circuit" workouts, nutrition lectures, and heart-healthy cooking classes and demonstrations by Elmwood's Executive Chef, and is designed to teach parents and kids how to incorporate healthier foods and behaviors into their lifestyle. On the Move's pilot program was launched in Spring 2008 with 4th and 5th graders at S.J. Green Charter School in Uptown New Orleans.
With parental permission, On the Move staff will collect data this Fall on the children's blood pressure readings, resting heart rate, body fat percentages, strength, flexibility and muscle mass, both before and after going through the program. Funding for On the Move is provided in part by the Frost Foundation, Coca-Cola and the New Orleans Saints.