By Jenny Deam
Ellie Newman earned tickets to a Denver Broncos game.
(May 2014) When James Hill, PhD, professor of pediatrics and medicine, and
executive director of University of Colorado’s Anschutz Health and
Wellness Center, was a newcomer to the state back in the 1990s he heard
about a program that allowed any fifth-grader ski free.
What a brilliant marketing idea, he thought.
that age can be insistent once excited about something. They’ll bug
their parents to take them to the slopes, and the ski industry makes
money off the whole family while hooking a future customer. But back
then, Hill’s own kids were so young that he tucked the notion away while
becoming one of the nation’s leading voices on pediatric nutrition.
A good idea, though, never really goes away.
than a decade later, Hill dusted off his fascination with Colorado Ski
Country’s successful 5th-Grade Passport program and used the thinking
behind it to nudge another group of fifth-graders toward eating
healthier and exercising more.
With so much scolding surrounding
the problem of childhood obesity and inactive kids, Hill wondered if
maybe the grown-ups had the wrong approach.
“Rather than us
telling kids what to do, let’s let them make their own choices,” he
says. “Let’s teach them the skills to make informed decisions and help
them understand the consequences that if they supersize those french
fries, it will take 8,000 steps to burn them off.” he says.
that empowering approach, 5th Gear Kids was born. After a pilot rollout
last school year, the program this year reaches nearly 7,000
fifth-graders in 70 schools within two Denver suburban school
districts. Students, who suggested the program’s name, learn in P.E. and
science classes about nutrition and how that whole
intake-versus-energy–expended thing works.
And just to drive the
point home, there is a bribery component for those who sign up for a
points program. (They are, after all, kids.) Points for prizes can be
earned if they order a turkey sandwich on whole wheat at Subway or if
mom buys almonds instead of cashews at the grocery store. They also earn
points if they stay active, whether it be shooting hoops with friends,
playing on sports teams or even playing a musical instrument. Pounding
piano keys burns calories, too.
There are lots of ways to earn
points. For 60 minutes of physical activity, the students earn 150
points. Signing up in participating fitness classes offers a chance for
150 points. Talking to a grocer’s dietician earns 50 points. Getting an
annual well-child visit with a pediatrician provides 500 points.
prizes involve sports gear but the grand prize is a trip for two to
Iceland, which happens to be the home country of Thrudur Gunnarsdot-tir,
PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at CU who is involved in the program.
year’s winner, Franklin Carpenter of Aurora, started racking up points
to get a bicycle but then he just kept going. In the end he compiled an
astonishing 40,000 points, and in December traveled to Iceland for five
days with his older sister.