4 School Nurses Who Are Confronting the Childhood Obesity Epidemic

Young children do Zumba
Credit: Pint-size Zumba offered from USAG- Humphreys, CC BY 2.0

In 2013, Action for Healthy Kids (AFHK) went live with Every Kid Healthy Week, which is held the last week of April. Nationwide, school nurses and administrators are incorporating physical activity, nutrition, and education within their schools to improve wellness.

According to the CDC, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. More than one-third of kids are now overweight or obese. These staggering statistics have been a call to action for schools and health care providers all over the country. Here are four nurses who are leading the charge.

1) Mary Colver – Little Fort Elementary School in Waukegan, IL

Children performing sit ups
When it came to light that 42% of her school’s student population was overweight or obese, school nurse Mary Colver sprang into action to improve wellness. She implemented programs in her school to encourage healthy food choices and increase physical activity among the students, including a before school exercise program and a morning music & dance program.

All in all, Mary introduced six new wellness initiatives into the school, which have changed the health culture and is spreading to surrounding districts, according to AFHK. When asked why her program is such a success, she said “It was essential to have the support and buy-in of the administration and teachers, as well as students and their parents.”

2) Traci Easterling – 28th Street Elementary in Gulfport, MS

A healthy school lunch
Credit: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, CC BY 2.0

28th Street Elementary administrators recognized that they needed to take action to improve wellness and formed a wellness committee. When the committee was unable to follow through with implementing policies to improve wellness, nurse Traci Easterling applied for a grant through AFHK. As soon as the school received the grant, Traci and her team implemented a school-wide wellness program

They introduced kids to healthy food by holding taste tests, which lead to a dramatic increase of students eating healthy food during lunch. In addition, 85% of the teachers added physical activity in their classrooms. Traci also incorporated exercise as treatment for sleepiness and restlessness, and she began teaching supplemental nutrition education.

3) Sam Teel – Hodge Elementary in Denton, TX

Children in a school cafeteria eating lunch
Credit: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, CC BY 2.0

Through a mutual concern that a student was not eating breakfast, school nurse Sam Teel teamed up with his principal Sam Kelly to improve wellness at their school. In an effort to promote healthy eating habits, they developed a new school breakfast program for their students.

The nurse-principal team implemented additional wellness programs, including one to educate parents, teachers, and students on how to think healthy. Their programs were so successful that other schools in the district adopted health-focused programs.

4) Peggy Rayman – Lewis Frasier Middle School in Hinesville, GA

A blood pressure measurement
A nurse for over 40 years, Peggy Rayman recognized the seriousness of high blood pressure in children. She also knew that addressing the problem would not be easy. “When they do have high blood pressure, [are] pre-diabetic, [and are] hypertensive, they won’t do well in class, but changing culture isn’t easy,” she said.

After receiving a grant for treadmill desks, Peggy identified 32 high-risk students to use the desks for three months. As a result, 16 of the students showed a decrease in their blood pressure. Her experiment gained the attention of researchers at The University of Georgia, which she hopes will lead to treadmill desks at all schools in her county.

Schools are only the first line of defense

In addition to this valuable work being done in schools, as children are being identified as overweight or obese, health care providers are becoming more aggressive in following up with obese children and their families.

Marie Hickey, DNP, FNP, associate lecturer at Kent State’s College of Nursing, specializes in family health and childhood obesity. “Many projects have demonstrated that commitment by the entire family will result in better outcomes,” said Hickey.

“As children are growing, weight loss is not always the goal, rather, improving lifestyle habits including balanced diet, regular exercise of 60 minutes of aerobic activity every day and minimizing intake of sugared beverages will ultimately lead to healthier weights.”


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