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Graders to be empowered about nutrition, fitness

An educational play and curriculum now being presented in Ellsworth area elementary schools focuses on nutrition and physical fitness.

"The Power of the Pyramid" involves a live interactive performance with lessons to be reinforced by workbooks, take-home activities to be completed by families and classroom posters, according to information supplied by Heather Logelin of the Kinnickinnic Health Foundation and Cheryl Passe of River Falls Area Hospital. There are also guidebooks and curriculum aids for teachers.

"As a part of our Community Benefit Program, we are proud to sponsor an initiative to encourage awareness and conversation about healthy eating and physical activity," said Randy Farrow, president of the hospital, affiliated with Allina Hospitals and Clinics, an event sponsor along with PreferredOne and the Minnesota Medical Association.

The 30-minute play was to have been performed at Hillcrest Elementary School Monday of this week. It's also scheduled for performances at Lindgren Elementary School this Thursday at 10 a.m. and St. Francis School Thursday at 1:30 p.m. A performance at Sunnyside Elementary School will be held Thursday, Nov. 2, at 2:15 p.m. Prairie View Elementary School hosted the play last spring.

Parents are invited to attend, as are members of the schools' lunchroom staffs so the latter can acquaint themselves with terms introduced throughout the play they might otherwise be unfamiliar with, such as "slow, whoa and go" foods.

The program is designed to make learning about nutrition and fitness easy and fun. School children come to realize they have the "Power to Be Fit."

The play's story tells how a character named Preston "Prince" Polygon works at the Pyramid Restaurant and is the worst waiter in the world. His boss, Chuck Wagon, gives Preston 20 minutes to learn about fitness and nutrition in order to keep his job. Plus, a Mummy happens to be competing for the same job. Preston learns about all things nutritious from Dana J. Upton and that physical activity is a key part of staying healthy from Colonel Fishly.

Some facts addressing childhood obesity are:

--Sixteen percent of children and adolescents ages six to 19 are overweight.

--Adolescents who are overweight have a 70 percent chance of being overweight or obese as adults.

--Children who are overweight and obese are at increased risk of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and various cancers.

--Type 2 diabetes, once believed to affect only adults, is now being diagnosed among young people.

--Sixty-one percent of overweight five-to-10-year olds already have at least one risk factor for heart disease and 26 percent have two or more risk factors.

--Overweight and obese children are subject to social stigma, bullying and teasing, which frequently manifests itself in poor school performance and mental health issues.

--The average annual health care costs for adults who are obese are 36 percent higher than for normal weight individuals.

--Estimates of health care and other costs related to overweight and obesity range from $98 billion to $129 billion.

--On average, children ages 11-18 eat at fast food restaurants twice a week.

--In 1977-78, children ages six to 11 drank four times as much milk as soda; by 2001-02, they drank nearly equal amounts of milk and soda.

--Since 1960, the number of children who walk or bike to schools has decreased from nearly 50 percent to 10 percent.

--On average, children spend 5.5 hours a day watching TV, using the computer internet and playing video games. Every additional hour of screen time increases a child's risk of being overweight by two percent.

--Daily participation in high school physical education classes dropped from 42 percent in 1991 to 28 percent in 2003.

--Nearly 60 percent of children ages nine to 13 don't participate in any type of physical activity program outside of school.

The play, presented by the National Theatre for Children, marks the first time health care providers and schools have collaborated on a production to teach children and their families how to stay healthy.