Fit for learning

September 23, 2013

CENTRAL — Public schools are taking steps to fight childhood obesity with a two-pronged approach targeted toward nutrition and physical fitness, but what is being done to promote healthy habits throughout the day?

Jennifer Wagner, assistant professor of education at Southern Wesleyan University, thinks that schools are on the right path, but there is room for improvement. Many schools are offering healthier lunches than before, but sugary snacks are still available. A lot of schools that once offered one physical education class a day now offer two classes, but are other opportunities for physical activity being overlooked?

“We need to not only improve the lives of children and talk to them about healthy choices but also to make sure their parents understand this is not just a school issue,” Wagner said. “We talked with children and we talked with their parents as well.”

Wagner feels that if children don’t learn to make healthy choices about food and exercise, they are likely to grow up as unhealthy adults.

A doctoral candidate at Clemson University, Wagner recently coauthored a paper being published in the Teacher Education Journal of South Carolina titled “A Qualitative Study of Daily Physical Activity in Community-based Learning Settings with Recommendations for Teachers and Administrators,” addressing the issue of childhood obesity and studying the daily physical activity of 4- to 7-year-old children in early learning settings. The study also features the work of fellow Ph.D. candidate Katherine Evans and Clemson Professor Dolores A. Stegelin.

Their study topic was developed in response to an apparent lack of research into excess weight among children aged 4 to 7 years. While there hasn’t been much research in this area, it was suggested in the Mission:Readiness Website in 2009 that while there are higher obesity rates among children in low socioeconomic status families, high-quality early learning programs are seen as critical to the prevention of poor health, education shortfalls and crime.

The study called for creation of a more active routine during the school day, such as to integrate more physical movement across its curriculum. Another recommendation is that schools can develop “activity zones,” as well as to offer unstructured time where children could seize upon opportunities to move around. Even downtime, such as time spent waiting for the next activity, should be examined by school officials as an opportunity for some type of beneficial physical activity.

Although Wagner believes programs targeting childhood obesity have been “hit or miss,” she is optimistic.

“By doing research like this and educating people, I think we’re on the right path – we’re just not quite there yet,” she said.

Southern Wesleyan University is described as a Christ-centered, student-focused learning community devoted to transforming lives by challenging students to be dedicated scholars and servant-leaders who impact the world for Christ. For details about degree programs, go online to swu.edu.