Our Views: Edgerton program providing students with healthy lessons

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Friday, January 3, 2014

An intriguing experiment is playing out at Edgerton Middle School. It shows the sort of collaboration between schools and community resources that can benefit all parties and serve as a model elsewhere.

Twenty-one students were fitted with Fitbit Flex wireless digital wrist devices that track health. The school teamed up with Edgerton Hospital in this 10-week pilot program to measure how active kids are and gauge diet and sleep habits. While the devices track physical activity and sleep, the students log dietary information into electronic tablets.

Principal Phill Klamm, a former physical education teacher, earns credit for organizing the program after learning some students aren't thrilled about gym classes. Steve Zartman, a teacher and coach, is coordinating the program.

Some initial results are pretty obvious, but others are opening eyes.

For example, many students don't get the eight or nine hours of sleep per night that experts recommend. Who would have imagined that? Also, many don't eat the five or more recommended servings of fruit each day, instead getting only one or two. In a world of fast food, whodathunkit?

More interesting is that many kids experience midday headaches. Jennifer Ludwig, a hospital dietician, suggests that might be from a lack of hydration. While kids should drink between eight and 10 glasses, she finds many only down one or two per day. She's urging them to reach for glasses of water rather than medicine to see if the headaches subside.

Hospital staffers are visiting the school to stress the value of sleep, exercise and healthy eating. In another example of collaboration, UW-Whitewater will help the hospital analyze data and provide feedback.

A range of kids is in the study—some physically active and engaged in extracurricular activities, others sedentary; some top academics, others at risk. That cross section makes sense.

Residents should keep two things in mind, however. First, those in the study likely feel a sense of competition and are improving health habits compared to those of average students. So the study might not provide a realistic picture of overall youth health in Edgerton. Those overseeing the program no doubt realize this. The devices, for example, track how many steps students take, and the program goal is for each student to take 10,000 daily. Organizers say many students are exploring ways to meet that goal.

Second, Zartman told The Gazette that the school might use study results to decide whether kids involved in sports or other extracurriculars get enough activity that they could skip future phy ed classes. We wouldn't favor that idea.

Sure, schools should consider granting a half credit of physical education for a high school student who plays sports—credit allowed by state law. However, younger students need all the activity they can get to develop what could be lifetime habits. Young students also need breaks to burn off excess energy between classroom studies, as well as the interactivity that gym provides. We doubt that middle school sports and other extracurriculars match the consistent physical demands of high school sports.

Still, this middle school study deserves applause. It will provide students with valuable lessons that heighten awareness about healthy habits.

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