By Marcia Neville | University Communications
AURORA, Colo. – The wait is over. This month, all Aurora Public Schools and Cherry Creek Schools fifth-graders, are getting geared up to learn about making healthy living choices through the first-of-its-kind “5th Gear Kids” program. The program was developed by researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Health and Wellness Center led by executive director James O. Hill, Ph.D, in collaboration with the Children’s Hospital Colorado Foundation and the two school districts. Primary funding for the project was provided by The Colorado Health Foundation.
With 27% of Colorado children considered overweight or obese, 5th Gear Kids is a united mission between schools, parents and businesses to reverse the obesity trend. The program focuses on teaching students about “energy balance”, the direct relationship between a body’s activity level and the amount of calories required to keep that body both lean and energized. As emerging leaders, the fifth-graders will serve as healthy examples and role models to younger children and adults alike, in their schools, homes and communities.
“5th Gear could be a game changer”, Hill says. “The program teaches fifth-graders skills that they can use throughout their lives to balance food intake with physical activity.”
Throughout the school year, the fifth-graders will learn how to apply energy balance concepts to their lives, their friends’ and their families’. They will be encouraged to make healthy food and activity choices through a discount and rewards program at dozensof businesses. King Soopers will provide a 5th Gear Kids rewards card allowing students to record points for taking positive steps toward a healthier lifestyle and to exchange those points for prizes. Healthy choices are as simple as deciding to get up and take a walk, to go for a run or drink milk instead of soda.
“The 5th Gear card allows the students to practice being healthy consumers in their communities”, Hill continues. “I believe the kids who go through this program will have a much better chance of avoiding weight gain and obesity.”
Administrators from both districts point to the educational benefits of healthier students.
“Research shows that children who eat right, exercise and get enough rest come to school more prepared to learn and do better academically,” said Cherry Creek Superintendent Mary Chesley. “The 5th Gear Kids program supports our efforts to help every child reach his or her academic potential.” Superintendent John Barry from Aurora Public Schools adds, “5th Gear Kids teaches our students how to find a balance of healthy eating and physical activity. When students are fueled and ready for learning, anything is possible.”
Enthusiasm for the program continues to spread throughout the community. Family-oriented, kickoff events are scheduled in both Aurora and Cherry Creek school districts. The Children’s Hospital Colorado Foundation and The Colorado Health Foundation continue to lead the effort to improve the health and wellness of Colorado’s children. Corporate sponsors King Soopers, McDonald’s, and Leprino Foods head an impressive list of partnering businesses, restaurants, and sports & recreation organizations committed to making a healthy difference in the lives of this first group of fifth-graders and the many students who will follow them.
Nearly 7,000 students will be impacted this year by the healthy messages of “5th Gear Kids”, gearing them up with skills they can rely on for a lifetime of wellness. But, according to Hill, this is just the beginning. “We have never been accused of thinking small at the CU Anschutz Health and Wellness Center. We think 5th Gear could spread across the country.” Getting geared up this first year could very well set the example for generations of fifth-graders to come.