Edgerton schools using technology to track student fitness

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Neil Johnson
Friday, December 27, 2013

EDGERTON—So far, a 10-week electronic health and fitness tracking program at Edgerton Middle School has yielded some eye-opening results.

For one, students at the school apparently don't drink anywhere near enough water. They also don't eat enough fruit, and some aren't getting enough sleep.

Many students seem to get enough activity—at least 10,000 footsteps a day—but many get headaches that seem to come on regularly about halfway through the school day, according to preliminary data results.

In late November, the Edgerton Hospital fitted 21 students with Fitbit Flex wireless digital health-tracking wrist devices. The move is part of a pilot program between the hospital and the Edgerton School District to measure how active students are, and to take stock of how their diet and sleep patterns factor into their overall health.

Middle school Principal Phill Klamm, a former physical education teacher, organized the program with the hospital when he learned some students were lukewarm about participating in gym class.

Klamm and other school officials wanted to see if a technology-driven fitness program would spark more interest in health and fitness in and out of school.

Steve Zartman, a teacher and athletics coach at the school who is serving as coordinator of the program, said the Fitbit devices were issued to a blend of students who had varying interest in physical activity, extracurricular activities and school athletics.

“They (the Fitbits) have been given to our really active kids, and some super-academic students out for a ton of extracurricular activities,” Zartman said. “The devices also were offered to our at-risk kids, some of the kids that are borderline in terms of their activity in physical education or their level of interest or engagement in school.”

The program uses the Fitbit devices to digitally monitor and track the students' physical activity and sleep over a 10-week period. Students are in charge of tracking their own diet daily and logging information using a program on school-issued electronic tablets.

As part of the program, hospital staff has come to the school to talk with students about the importance of sleep, exercise and healthy eating.

Jennifer Ludwig, a dietician at the hospital who is coordinating the program, said data results so far have shown some interesting results. She said a portion of students in the program:

--Are getting less than the eight to nine hours of sleep required for teenagers.

--Only eat one or two servings of fruit a day, when they should be eating five to nine.

--Drink as little as one or two glasses of water a day. They should be drinking eight to 10.

Ludwig said the most interesting trend to come out of the Fitbit program surrounds headaches, which some students seem to get daily around mid-day. The likely culprit for the noggin pain, Ludwig said, is dehydration.

“The number one symptom of dehydration initially is nothing. People don't feel thirst until they're at the point of dehydration,” Ludwig said.

But that's when the headaches, and even a false sense of hunger, can come on.

“We've told the students that if they encounter a headache, instead of ibuprofen or other medicine, try 12 ounces of water and see if you feel better five minutes later,” Ludwig said.

The major piece of information the Fitbit program is intended to show is whether students are physically active enough throughout the day and at home.

Fitbit devices have a built-in pedometer that tracks how many steps each student takes. The students should take 10,000 steps daily, according to the program's goals.

Many students get enough activity, although some are trying to find different ways to meet their goals.

Ludwig and Zartman said some students have become more involved in school dances and other activities to make sure they can meet their requirements. Others are walking their dogs more and taking breaks at home to do jumping jacks or other exercises.

“It's turned into a competition,” Ludwig said.

When the program concludes, Ludwig said, UW-Whitewater has agreed to help the hospital organize the student data and to give feedback, including whether the students who wore the devices had an increase in physical activity or improved diet or sleep patterns.

Zartman said the school could use the study to determine whether students involved in sports or extracurricular activities get enough activity so that they might be able to opt out of phy ed classes in the future.

“Some kids are overwhelmed with extracurriculars, academics and athletics. Do those kids have to spend two or three hours in phy ed each week if they're active outside of the classroom?” Zartman asked.

He said the underlying goal is to find ways to get students with different interests to stay active.

“Some students would rather be reading a book or doing something else in school ... drawing or being creative," Zartman said. "That's fine if we can get an alternative where they still can get activity. They can find a better way to utilize time in school."

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