Archive for the ‘Child Obesity’ Category

5 Factors of Childhood Obesity

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

Childhood obesity has more than doubled in the past 30 years. Our infographic below illustrates the most significant biological, behavioral and environmental contributions to childhood obesity in America and some simple ways to maintain a healthy life.

5 Factors of Childhood Obesity

The Benefits of Structured Physical Activity for Early Childhood Programs

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

Structured physical activities are usually led by a qualified adult and include organized sports, guided play, and school PE programs. Structured activities are important throughout a person’s life, but they play an essential role in early childhood—from birth to about five years of age. These are very tender years for a child. What they learn at this early age lays the groundwork for their future cognitive, social, emotional, and physical skills. Let’s take a look at how structured physical activity benefits early childhood programs.

1. Structured activities encourage healthy behaviors to dispel childhood obesity.

Aside from our own research into the value physical activity plays in the lives of children under the age of 5, many other resources are coming up with similar findings. According to the CDC, over a third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese in 2010. Obesity puts kids at an immediate risk for cardiovascular disease, prediabetes, and bone and joint problems. In the long term, obese children are much more likely to be obese as adults, putting them at risk for a number of severe issues, including osteoarthritis, diabetes, heart disease, and various forms of cancer.The Benefits of Structured Physical Activity for Early Childhood Programs

Structured activities go a long way to prevent excess weight and obesity. Studies show that obesity prevention programs in preschool are highly effective, particularly in areas of poverty. Participating in guided, controlled activities for just an hour a day burns calories, builds muscle, and encourages kids to maintain an active life.

While it may seem overboard, especially for toddlers, we can assure you it isn’t. Instilling healthy behaviors through structured activities at such an early age lays the foundation for a healthier society as a whole.

2. Structured physical activities develop motor skills, coordination, and movement at a young age.

Infants and toddlers are little balls of energy. They crawl, roll, kneel, creep up stairs, and eventually find themselves upright, taking their first tiny, stumbling steps. It’s no easy feat for an young child, but structured physical activity encourages movement and helps a child learn how his limbs and muscles can move in unison; in other words, the basics of coordination.

As their physical abilities develop, kids learn to use their hands more. Around the age of two, kids particularly enjoy finger play activities, like “The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” which assist in developing dexterity and hand-eye coordination. Other finger play exercises, like “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes,” allow children to touch and identify different body parts.

Even the most basic exercises and activities—throwing, catching, bouncing, or kicking a ball, for instance—help kids coordinate their movements.

Furthermore, structured activities pull developing babies away from products that inhibit free movement. According to Aid to Life, bouncers, walkers, and playpens significantly limit movement and force infants to move before they’re ready. As the saying goes, you have to crawl before you can walk.

To accommodate a toddler’s coordination, movement, and growing interest in navigating his space, try to accumulate at least 60 minutes of structured physical activity a day, which could involve simple games, going for a walk, or participating in a parent-child tumbling or dance class.

Examples of how our Early Childhood lesson plans help improve these skills include: Hoop It Up, Super Stunts and Have a Ball. Feel free to review our other sample lessons plans from our Early Childhood instructional unit.

3. Structured activity improves mood and self-esteem.

You know how great you feel after a run, thanks mainly to the production of endorphins, the good-feeling chemical that floods your body. The same happens to kids, but it’s not something they entirely need to understand. What they do understand is the fun and good times that come from engaging activities.

Structured physical activities reduce anxiety and depression and give children a healthy outlet for managing everyday stress. These ideas extend beyond childhood, well into adult life.

During structured activity, parents and adults also have the opportunity to address body image. We live in a world filled with false perceptions of body image, which builds an unhealthy ideal perfectionism and an overly critical sense of self, both of which are linked to depression and anxiety. Structured activities provide kids with a positive body image—personal and otherwise—which provides a greater sense of self, builds self-confidence,  and gives them the emotional and social skills they need to cope with restrictive, highly skewed societal norms that define how a person “should look” in a healthy, positive manner.

As evidenced by this report by the American Academy of Pediatrics, playing with kids also reinforces the strong bonds they have with their parents and teachers, bonds that offer unwavering love and support. This supportive foundation helps kids develop resiliency, optimism, and the ability to bounce back from adversity, traits that are important for facing future challenges.

The 5 Worst Kids Menu Foods

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

Here is a look at the 5 worst kids menu foods found at some major restaurants.

The 5 Worst Kids Menu Foods

Tune in to HBO’s Documentary Series, “The Weight of the Nation” May 14-15

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

Between 60 and 70 percent of Americans are overweight or obese. Nearly a third of the nation’s youth age two to 19 are overweight or obese. We can’t stress enough the danger of obesity—it leads to serious health problems including heart disease, the leading cause of death in America. New generations of children face the possibility of shorter life expectancies than their parents. Why is America letting this happen?

HBO has partnered with the Institute of Medicine to premiere The Weight of the Nation, a four-part documentary series chronicling the country’s grave struggle with obesity.

SPARK is heavily invested in improving children’s health across the country, and we hope that you’ll take the time to watch the series. Through The Weight of the Nation, HBO is taking a significant step toward increasing awareness of the growing obesity epidemic and its implications.

The documentary shines a spotlight on many of the issues surrounding obesity, its causes, and its effects on health and everyday life with case studies and interviews with the country’s leading experts and the people struggling with it. In addition, the documentary series takes an unflinching look at all facets of childhood obesity, from school meals to declining physical education programs and beyond.

The documentary aims not only to raise awareness but cause action. It’s imperative for adults and children nationwide to shift toward a healthier lifestyle, and now. Our future depends on it.

Weight of the Nation viewing schedule:
Part 1 – “Consequences” – Monday, May 14th at 8:00 p.m.
Part 2 – “Choices” – Monday, May 14th at 9:10 p.m.
Part 3 – “Children in Crisis” – Tuesday, May 15th at 8:00 p.m.
Part 4 – “Challenges” – Tuesday, May 15th at 9:10 p.m.

If you don’t have HBO, you can still see the documentary series. All four parts will be available to view for free for an unlimited time at starting May 14th.
On May 16th, watch the first part of another series called The Weight of the Nation for Kids at 7:00 p.m. (all three parts will be available this fall).

Gather your friends and family, and tune in to this very important documentary.

Also- Click Here to view another video on Childhood Obesity and how we can overcome this national epidemic.

Watch the Weight of the Nation trailer:

Update on the 2012 Carol M. White PEP Grants

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012
Latest news for the 2012 PEP Grants:

There will be no new PEP competition this year. Instead, the program will make new awards by funding down the slate of 2011 applicants. Therefore, no new or revised applications for PEP grants will be accepted in 2012. Applicants that did not win in 2011 may have the opportunity to receive an award in 2012, depending on the score from last year’s competition. Awards will be announced by 9/30/2012.

This information was received via email from the PEP Program Manager, Carlette Huntley.

Information for PEP Grant Applicants/Winners:
  1. New: Resource Guide for PEP Applicants/Winners Click Here
  2. SPARK alignment with national & state standards Click Here
  3. PECAT Reports for SPARK K-8 PE  Click Here
  4. HECAT Reports for our Health & Nutrition Partners (Healthy Lifestyle Choices and Healthy Kids Challenge) Click Here
  5. Denver Public Schools PEP Grant success story Click Here
  6. SPARK Assessment Tools Click Here

How Has the Childhood Obesity Rate Changed in the Last 30 Years?

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

Child obesity is a modern-day epidemic. The last 30 years have been especially devastating as the percentage of obese children skyrocketed to more than double what it was in the 80s. Thousands of non-profits, communities, schools, and political leaders have taken notice and started working to reverse the damage; but it is no easy feat—America’s lifestyle has changed, and we must get to the root of the problem to change it all.

Statistics: Child obesity has been closely measured since the early 1980s and the data shows us just how serious the problem is. The rate of obesity in children ages 6-11 increased from 6.5 to 19.6 percent between the years 1980 and 2008. In just 28 years, obesity nearly tripled in all age groups under 18 years old. Between 16 to 33 percent of adolescents are now obese, meaning in certain parts of the United States one in three kids is obese. Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado all have a child and adolescent obesity rate of fewer than 10% while Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Delaware have a rate of over 20 percent. This data is from 2005-2007, but the numbers have moved in the wrong direction since then.

Risks and Affects: Obese kids are at risk for numerous health problems and diseases. Obesity-related medical problems include type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and disability. Diabetes is the seventh-leading cause of death in the United States. With between 100,000-400,000 obesity-related deaths per year and an estimated healthcare expenditure of $117 billion, obesity has surpassed health-care costs related to smoking and drinking. High cholesterol, high blood pressure, joint problems, sleep apnea, and psychological/social problems are just the beginning of what an obese child can expect to deal with.

The causes and solutions to such a widespread epidemic are complex and run deeper than we’re able to cover in a brief blog post. However, we’ve described some of the main factors below to help you get a sense of the main issues surrounding this crisis.

Causes for obesity are vast, and often many different factors and special circumstances contribute. Below are just a few factors that can cause obesity:

  • Family Habits: Children are ten times more likely to be obese if both parents are obese. It isn’t always the family habits causing the children to be obese, but they can have a direct impact on the problem.
  • Food Choices: Fast food, vending machines, and the cheap snacks from the store are what kids have grown accustomed to and eat on a daily basis. Easy access to unhealthy food makes it easy for parents to feed their kids for cheap and also let the kids have what they want, but that doesn’t make it a healthy choice.
  • TV & Video Games: Studies have shown a direct correlation between the amount of TV watched and levels of obesity. The most obese adolescents are the ones who spent the most time in front of the television. Children today spend on average 25 percent of their day watching TV, playing video games, or spending time on the computer. For each additional hour a kid watches TV, they will probably consume 167 extra calories.
  • Fast Food: The American stereotype of eating too much fast food is backed up by several studies. Americans spent $6 billion on fast food in 1970 and $142 billion in 2006. Fast food is always easier and often cheaper than cooking healthy meals at home, which is why many American families eat out multiple times per week, sometimes every day.
  • Calorie Count: The poor food choices in combination with too much TV and video games have result in kids taking in more calories than they are burning every single day. That is the basic foundation of weight gain and must be reversed in order to keep our kids healthy.

Solutions for childhood obesity are also varied and are dependent on many different factors. Here are a few ideas for kick-starting a healthier lifestyle:

  • Physical Activity: Physical activity must increase to an hour per day just so kids can burn off the extra calories. Physical education programs at school have the potential to influence a kid’s perspective on exercise and sports, and families can enroll their children in after school sports. Even just taking the kids down to the park to toss a Frisbee will make an impact. Make moving fun, and your kids will learn to choose an active over sedentary lifestyle.
  • Healthier Choices: If you happen to be eating fast food, choose a healthier item on the menu with less calories, sugar, and simple carbohydrates. At home, ramp up the amount of vegetables and teach your kids to make their own healthy food choices. If the kids feel like they have a say in the decision, they will enjoy the cooking experience and be motivated to eat healthily. Schools must take out the junk food and replace it with healthy snacks and lunches to help in the fight against obesity.
  • Education and Participation: Health education at school, home, and in the community will teach the kids to make their own healthy decisions. School PE programs should focus on fun activities that everyone participates in. The community can promote healthy events and get the kids involved, the parents can teach the kids to cook, and kids can learn about the risks and benefits of a healthy versus poor diet. Safe parks to play in, safe bike trails, and community events like a trash clean-up get everyone on their feet and enjoying the great outdoors.

National Childhood Obesity Facts, Figures and a Solution to End the Epidemic

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

Childhood obesity is a major concern in the United States. Over the past few decades there has been a dramatic increase in the number of children suffering from obesity. Kids are staying indoors more with limited physical activity and increased caloric consumption, resulting in a nationwide epidemic of obesity in our children. There are hundreds of organizations, large and small, fighting to stem this trend and help get our kids’ health back in check. But a business or non-profit can’t do it alone. Parents and kids must both be willing to change their habits to create a healthier lifestyle.

Causes of Childhood Obesity
There are many causes for childhood obesity, and sometimes a complex combination of circumstances work together to put our children at risk. One thing we know for sure is that reduced physical activity in school is a component and a risk factor for childhood obesity. Studies have shown that throughout our nation, less than one third of school-aged children (age 6-17) engage in physical activity – that is, activity that makes them sweat and increase breathing and heart rate for at least 20 minutes. And that’s just the minimum recommended amount of physical activity. There is no surprise here that childhood obesity has become a frightening epidemic in our country.

Risks of Child Obesity

  • High Cholesterol and Blood Pressure: High levels of “bad” cholesterol called LDL and also high blood pressure are common in obese children.
  • Bone and Joint Problems: There have been numerous cases of obese children experiencing a slipped growth plate in their hip bone.
  • Sleep Apnea: Obstruction of the child’s airway is common and can result in many other day-to-day problems like poor school performance and nighttime bedwetting on top of the primary risk where the individual stops breathing in their sleep.
  • Psychological Problems: Probably the most severe risk of obesity in kids is their emotional and psychological health. Kids will develop poor self-esteem and accept the fact that they will be obese their entire lives, making it extremely difficult for them to change their lifestyle in later years.
  • Type 2 Diabetes: What used to be only of concern in adults and very rare in children is not a major concern for obese kids.

Child Obesity Statistics

  • Prevalence of Obesity: Among children ages 6-11, there was a 6.5% rate of obesity in 1980 which increased to 18.6% by 2008. Ages 12-19 increased from 5% to 18.1% in the same time period.
  • Cardiovascular Disease: 70% of obese children from 5-17 years have at least one symptom and risk factor of cardiovascular disease like high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
  • Low-Income Obesity: 1 of 7 low income children in preschool is obese.
  • 13 million children and adolescents in the U.S. are obese.
  • Obese adolescents are 80% more likely to end up as obese adults.
  • Healthcare expenses directly related to childhood obesity are $14 billion every year.

One Solution to the Epidemic: Quality PE in SchoolsNational Childhood Obesity Facts, Figures and a Solution to End the Epidemic
The problem of childhood obesity is urgent – changes need to be made immediately. Children need positive influences from the adults around them to make better choices. And who better to provide that than a physical education teacher? In general, children attend about 5 or 6 hours of school, 5 days per week. Physical education classes might take up about an hour per day. Imagine the good that could be done for children if that time was optimized with fun, challenging, and healthy activity.

Implementing quality PE in children’s school schedule would be a great first step to turning this epidemic around. PE classes should be used to really teach children about how important a healthy lifestyle is. We can reverse the stigma about PE classes being boring, awkward, and repetitive by breathing new life into old games and activities. Children can learn that challenging themselves and staying healthy are great for self-esteem and making new friends. Teachers should be passionate about their purpose, and lead by positive example.

When students are able to connect with teachers and create a respectful relationship, they are highly more likely to engage in activities and try their hardest. With energetic and fun teachers, a challenging and exciting curriculum, and education about the crucial importance of physical activity and healthy eating, children will take fitness seriously. We will improve the PE in our schools, and let our children reap the benefits.

CDC’s Community Transformation Grants (CTGs)

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

Created by the Affordable Care Act, Community Transformation Grants (CTGs) are aimed at helping communities implement projects proven to reduce chronic diseases – such as diabetes and heart disease. Over $100M is available for the current year, and local/state health departments are a perfect fit for this opportunity!


Letter of Intent: June 6, 2011

Application: July 15, 2011


  • Support evidence and practice-based community and clinical prevention and wellness strategies that will lead to specific, measurable health outcomes to reduce chronic disease rates.
  • To create healthier communities by
  1. Building capacity to implement broad evidence and practice-based policy, environmental, programmatic and infrastructure changes in large counties, and in states, tribes and territories, including in rural and frontier areas
  2. Supporting implementation of such interventions in five strategic areas (“Strategic Directions”) aligning with “Healthy People 2020” focus areas and achieving demonstrated progress in the following five performance measures outlined in the Affordable Care Act: 1) changes in weight 2) changes in proper nutrition 3) changes in physical activity 4) changes in tobacco use prevalence 5) changes in emotional well being and overall mental health


  • Local governmental agencies, state governmental agencies, Health Departments, ministries of health, and other governmental agencies
  • Federally recognized American Indian Tribes and Alaska Native Villages; Tribal organizations; Urban Indian Health Programs; Tribal and intertribal consortia
  • State nonprofit organizations
  • Local nonprofit organizations


CDC Community Transformation Grants Homepage Notice and Application

Before You Apply:

SPARK can help you meet the requirements outlined in the CTGs application!

SPARK offers evidence-based Physical Education, Physical Activity and Coordinated School Health programs targeting pre-K through 12th grade students in and out of school, and our programs have been proven to WORK and LAST.

Click Here to download a detailed document that will explain how you can use SPARK to align with the goals of the CTG. This document includes information that shows:

  1. Alignment to the Strategic Directions and Strategies within the CTGs application
  2. Alignment to CDC’s long-term measures for addressing physical activity and nutrition
  3. Why you should partner with SPARK for your CTGS submission
  4. How SPARK deliverables align with CDC prevention outcomes
  5. Which SPARK Evaluation & Assessment options might be used to support your submission

Next Steps:

Contact Kymm Ballard, Ed.D at SPARK. She’ll ask you a few questions, learn about your current programs, and listen to your vision for creating a healthier community. Together, we’ll create a program that will WORK and LAST.

Kymm Ballard, Ed.D

Partnership Development Specialist

Study: Physically Active Kids Perform Better Academically

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

Study: Physically Active Kids Perform Better AcademicallyFor children, it’s important to begin a regular routine of healthy exercise as early as possible to help them perform at their best. However, such activity is a means of improving more than just the body through building muscle strength and endurance. In fact, many studies are now showing that children who are physically active also perform better in the classroom.

Over the past decade, the positives of physical education are helping students and teachers to feel good about taking a break from the usual classroom environment and get moving. The original SPARK study is still the only NIH study to positively link physical education and academics and conclude that more time spent in physical education class did not result in a decrease in academic performance (SPARK study in Research Quarterly – Click Here).

Below is a short list of sources that have linked staying in shape with staying ahead in the classroom. And for more resources (articles/publications/webinars) on the link between physical activity and academic performance you can Click Here .   (Image Source)

1. The National Association for Sport and Physical Education notes a 2001 California Department of Education study that correlates school performance with maintaining good physical condition. Student standardized achievement test scores were compared to the state required fitness test, known as the FitnessGram.  Pupils being evaluated underwent the scrutiny of this test, as provided by the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research. Different traits such as aerobic capacity, body composition, flexibility and more were measured. Results of the study found a direct relationship between physical fitness and improved academic achievement, especially in the area of mathematics. Findings also suggested that family involvement in physical activity with children outside of school helps to reinforce and foster life-long fitness habits.

2. For standardized math and English tests, studies have shown that children achieve more when they are able to pass a number of fitness tests. This finding published in the School of Journal Health studied a group of students between the 2004 and 2005 school year. Pupils performed better in both reading and math when they were also involved in ongoing athletic activities, regardless of gender or ethnicity. The idea that physical exertion will detract from a student’s studies is quickly becoming null and void, thanks to indicators such as these. Corresponding results help secure the belief that fitness programs may actually serve to enhance academic performance.

3. A 2005 report by the California Department of Education cites evidence that healthy, fit children are more prone to attend school and perform better than their sedentary peers. In response, the department encourages schools to make physical education an essential goal. This report expresses concern over the obesity epidemic amongst children in the United States, as well as illnesses it can cause later in life, such as heart disease and diabetes, among others. Physical education allows students to improve their bone density and motor skills, as well as boosts self esteem through exercise. The report further calls for legislation to continue ongoing support of health programs and improved nutrition for students while on campus. Emphasis on making sure that physical education teachers have the ability to give students the highest quality experience available is provided. Textbooks are available to help outline the skills that students should be learning from such programs.

4. The American College of Sports Medicine noted a 2006 study that supports the relationship between increased activity in children and higher grades. Children who participated in hearty exercise for no less than 20 minutes, three or more days a week, exhibited higher grades.  Those involved in less strenuous activities for 30 minutes over five days per week did not achieve the same improved grade results. Researchers advise the incorporation of strenuous physical activities into school programs and recommend teachers and parents assist students in balancing fitness programs alongside academic pursuits.

5. The California Journal of Health Promotion published findings in 2006 regarding explanations as to why physical education and academic achievement are associated.  A study was cited by California State University researchers who compared differences between schools that made fitness a priority and those that did not. When standardized pupil test scores were analyzed, it was determined that the leading schools also had formal, structured physical education programs based on the State Board of Education guidelines. Conversely, the lowest academic performing schools did not even have gym teachers.  The case for preserving physical education programs during school cutbacks is made, as well as the case for improving children’s health prospects in the future by remaining active.

6. A 2010 report in Science Daily cited a medical study presented at a conference for the American Heart Association that links physical fitness to better school performance.  For students who remain fit throughout their schooling years, there is a better chance of increased academic achievement. Standardized tests for students over time show that the students who perform best do so when they remain fit across different grade levels. Students should receive at least an hour of physical activity per day, with curriculum appropriate for their age group. Research indicates that healthier, happier children become fit adults as a result.


With the dangers of sedentary lifestyles becoming more apparent, it’s no wonder that exercise is being championed for all school-age students. Multiple scientific studies prove that there is more to academic performance than just book learning. The amount of exercise pupils receive in school can create positive habits that serve to compliment academic achievement. Promoting physical health in childhood can only serve to benefit our youth with the outcome of healthier bodies accompanied by brighter minds.

Fueling Student Success with Food and Fitness

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Brain breaks for better focus and concentration…

Healthy eating messages sprinkled throughout the school hallways, cafeteria, and classrooms…

Nutrition education woven into PE and core curriculum K-12…

Where is this happening? Check out West Orange, New Jersey school district!

“Teaching our students to maintain a healthy balance with eating and exercise is our top priority. The SPARK program is helping provide the tools and training to achieve this goal”, shared Corinn Giaquinto, Health and Physical Education instructor, Thomas Edison Middle School, West Orange, New Jersey.

Hats off to Thomas A. Edison Middle School and their entire school district in West Orange. The district has been using SPARK in their physical education department for some time and recently received a grant from Mountainside Health Foundation to fuel student success by adding nutrition education.

Vickie L. James, Registered Dietitian and Director of Healthy Kids Challenge (HKC), the exclusive nutrition education partner for SPARK, was the trainer for the West Orange training, the first ever SPARK and HKC nutrition education training.

“From classroom to PE to wellness council members K-12, the representation and enthusiasm shown at the workshop tells me the commitment this district has to student wellbeing. They truly understand the strategy of using good nutrition and physical activity to create a culture of health in the schools that can do nothing short of fueling student success. This was the first of many great moments down the road for West Orange Schools.”

If your school district is ready to accelerate student achievement by combining physical activity and nutrition education, contact SPARK today. Full day SPARK/HKC nutrition education trainings as well as a new nutrition curriculum in three grade ranges, K-2, 3-5, and 6-8 all are available through SPARK.  Healthy Kids Challenge trainings are tailored to meet school needs for successful implementation of realistic wellness policies, school improvement plans, and TEAM Nutrition guidelines. And SPARK/HKC help you achieve the required criteria for the HealthierUS School Challenge program.

The HKC curriculum, Balance My Day, was developed to align with all HECAT (Health Education Curriculum Analysis Tool) standards for nutrition education. This is a new requirement for PEP grant awardees and you won’t find many nutrition education programs that address it.

Stay tuned for exciting happenings and updates from West Orange schools! SPARK and HKC wish them well in their commitment to student health!