2014-10-22 / Local News

The results are in: 7th graders getting healthier

By SCOTT POWELL
Ledger Staff Writer


Grassy Pond Elementary School students run while involved in a First Tee golf skills team challenge held at The Creek Golf Club in Spartanburg. The golf program and a new MATCH pilot program in county middle schools are just a couple of ways Cherokee County schools are working to improve the overall health of students. Grassy Pond Elementary School students run while involved in a First Tee golf skills team challenge held at The Creek Golf Club in Spartanburg. The golf program and a new MATCH pilot program in county middle schools are just a couple of ways Cherokee County schools are working to improve the overall health of students. The sweet tooth is often the first craving 7thgraders still satisfy instead of grabbing carrots and broccoli from the refrigerator.

Now 665 Cherokee County 7th-graders are learning how to make healthy eating and exercise choices that could result in living much longer. To borrow a cliche, the proof is already being seen in the pudding.

First-year results show 68 percent of overweight and obese Cherokee County 7th-grade students were successful in reducing their body mass index (BMI) scores during the 2013-2014 school year. These results occurred in a local middle school pilot of MATCH (Motivating Adolescents with Technology to Choose Health.)

MATCH is an interdisciplinary approach to student wellness currently in 17 schools in eastern North Carolina and Cherokee County. It combines nutrition, physical exercise and technology in a webbased system tied to state academic standards taught by teachers.

The Fullerton Foundation has provided $185,000 for a 3-year pilot of MATCH in Cherokee County middle schools as a potential solution for addressing the issue of child obesity.

MATCH came to the attention of Fullerton Foundation director Joe Bonner last year when he visited the Medical University of South Carolina to learn about the latest health research and research potential grant funding opportunities for the foundation.

“For the past six years, MATCH has achieved approximately a 70 percent success rate in reducing BMI scores in overweight and obese 7th-graders in North Carolina,” Bonner said. “After the first year, our results in most middle schools mirrored the results seen in North Carolina schools. The idea is this program can help our community by improving health outcomes. If it works in Cherokee County schools, we feel it can be successful anywhere.”

East Carolina University professor Tim Hardison developed the MATCH wellness initiative in 2006 while working as a 7thgrade science teacher in Martin County in North Carolina.

MATCH uses a body systems approach to teach students how the health choices they make now will impact their health in future years. Teachers are trained to deliver lessons within their subject area using student workbooks based on academic standards already taught in classes.

Hardison said he started the wellness program after he read a Harvard University research study that indicated his county’s residents had the shortest life expectancy in North Carolina due in part to high obesity rates. Due to his involvement in school improvement and interest in exercise physiology, Hardison said he believed he could have an impact on the students he taught in Martin County.

“Kids are a little rebellious at the middle school age. If they think they know something their parents don’t, they’re liable to use it,” Hardison said. “We bring this whole wellness idea into the forefront of a kid’s mind and everything ties together.”

Height and weight are measured at the beginning and end of the 16-week MATCH program. Physical education teachers conduct standard fitness tests with students, including an exercise endurance test.

Students learn in math classes how to use an Excel spreadsheet to calculate their own body fat and complete an online survey to assess their health behaviors.

The survey also screens for issues like bullying which can impact their mental health. Survey data about student bullying is shared with key school personnel to followup as appropriate.

All results are entered into the MATCH webbased resource system to help teachers and school administrators track student progress towards achieving fitness and nutrition goals.

Hardison said small rewards are given to motivate and recognize students for their efforts to make healthy lifestyle changes.

“In a sense, kids become an agent for change at home,” Hardison said. “What we’re trying to do is empower these kids with the knowledge to make good choices, and then it’s up to them.”

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