Owasso Community Program Supports Healthy Habits
Since 1963 the childhood obesity rate has tripled. According to the American Heart Association, now more than one in three children in America is overweight. It’s not a matter of a few extra pounds, nor is it about fat-shaming children. Children and teenagers who carry more weight than what is healthy are at risk for heart disease, diabetes and other issues such as low self-esteem. Research also shows that more than 50 percent of parents don’t realize that their children are obese. Last year, in an effort to bring community-wide awareness, Bailey Medical Center in Owasso resolved to find some solutions. The staff wanted to encourage children to exercise and to make healthy choices, even when eating out. The PLAY program was launched in January.
David Steward, health and wellness coordinator at Bailey Medical Center began a series of conversations with area leaders. He said, “We have dieticians and exercise programs. How can we share this with our community?” First, he spoke with hospital staff. Next, he visited with all eight Owasso elementary schools, and finally, he began visiting with local fast food chain restaurants. The program recognizes the reality that many families dine at fast food restaurants, and that children often look to professional athletes as heroes and role models.
Steward’s main goals in developing the plan were to expose children to good eating habits and to encourage families to discuss healthy choices and to be active together. As he brainstormed, Jeff Paul at Smith Elementary suggested the Passport idea, which originated in rewarding students for reading books. Now the passports are being used to encourage healthy eating and exercise. Each student enrolled in an Owasso elementary school now has a Passport to PLAY, a booklet containing eating and exercise tips for elementary-aged students. Each time a student orders a healthy choice from a participating restaurant, he or she earns a sticker to place in the passport. Stickers can be obtained from Chick Fil A, McDonald’s, Red Robin, Chili’s, Wendy’s, Akira and McAlister’s in Owasso. Upon earning 30 stickers, Steward said, “They win two free or discounted tickets for games. The Tulsa Shock, Revolution, Oilers, Drillers, Athletics and Defenders are all involved.”
Steward said the teams have happily volunteered. Athletes or mascots attended each of the eight school assemblies held last month at the schools. “The kids loved it,” Steward said, “but it’s not really about the tickets. It’s about getting families to be active together. It’s about teaching kids about healthy habits.”
Part of the idea came from personal experience. As a dad with kids who play sports, Steward often makes the same trade-off other families make. To get the kids everywhere they need to be, and to get them fed in the process, parents sometimes sacrifice nutrition for the convenience and speed of fast food. Saving time often means that parents are cruising the drive-through and grabbing foods that are fried, processed, sugared and over-sized. Recognizing that families want better choices, many restaurant chains are providing apples, salads and grilled options and calorie information on their menus.
“It’s even better if parents and children can discuss where they’re going and what choices they will make ahead of time,” Steward said. This gives parents an opportunity to discuss healthier choices, even when eating out, and staves off the power of temptation upon arrival.
In addition to rewarding children for choosing fresh fruit over French fries, the program provides interesting fitness options in the schools and rewards students for bringing healthy lunches from home. Steward has handed out 5,000 stickers to the area P.E. teachers who distribute them at will during the school day. They may reward students who try a new activity, or who bring fruit for lunch. Instructors from Bailey Medical Center have provided kickboxing classes to students, Pilates classes for the baseball team, and a kids’ summer triathlon to encourage children to be active. There are plenty of ways to find free or low-cost fitness options in Owasso, Steward added.
“The PLAY program is a true partnership. Everyone played a piece,” Steward said.