Posted: Mar. 5, 2019 12:01 am
WANTAGE — While many schools across the country have increasingly focused on healthy eating habits among students, Wantage Elementary School nurse Deb Fisher, citing the results of a 2018 study, sought to take the education a step further.
The study, referenced in a June 3 New Jersey Herald article, concluded that of 6,867 Sussex County elementary students observed, 2,143 were deemed overweight, 1,042 were obese and 713 were morbidly obese. Those figures rank county children above the national average, Fisher said Monday, with more than 25 percent in either the “obese” or “morbidly obese” category.
In an effort to minimize what she called the “obesity crisis,” Fisher, with the help of numerous local agencies, started the “Race to Good Nutrition” initiative at Wantage Elementary. The five-week challenge officially started its engine Monday following a week of preliminary instruction for students and their families on what they can do to eat healthier and properly “fuel” their bodies.
In keeping with the racing theme, each student in the third- through fifth-grade school has received a race track road map with five spaces for each of the five main food groups: grains, fruits, vegetables, proteins and dairy. Teachers will check off a space in the respective category each time a child brings in and tries a food item, Fisher said, and students who eat food from all five groups will be rewarded with a small prize.
There is also a “friendly competition” among the classrooms, Fisher said, as the class with the most students eating from the five food groups at the end of the five weeks will earn a field trip to the Sussex County YMCA. The setup is designed to create a “positive peer pressure” environment in which children are motivated to bring in healthy foods, though Fisher stressed that the students will not be forced to eat any food they do not want to.
The initiative is the brainchild of the North Jersey Health Collaborative, of which Fisher is a member along with representatives from the YMCA and several other organizations. The group is partnering with Rutgers University, which has sent nursing students to several county schools to start wellness committees with the hope of having a committee set up in all districts by the end of the school year.
While Fisher acknowledged that the fight to curb obesity rates is “not going to be an overnight fix,” she is hopeful that the Wantage initiative will be a step in the right direction. She added that all the teachers are “gung-ho” about the competition and expressed optimism that some of the students will improve their eating habits.
For more information on “Race to Good Nutrition,” visit www.choosemyplate.gov/myplate.