Mercy supports call for obesity education

August 29, 2012

Independence area kids take off at the starting gun of the 2011 Neewollah fun run,

sponsored by Mercy. The event, like HealthTeacher, is another way Mercy

is promoting healthy lifestyles.

Along with the routine subjects kids are learning as they start the new school year, “obesity education” could soon be added to their class load if an American Medical Association (AMA) proposal gains speed. At a recent annual meeting of the nation’s largest professional society of doctors, physicians agreed to support legislation that would require kindergarten through 12th grade instruction on what causes obesity, what health problems can result and how to prevent it.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has tripled in the United States since 1980. That means it now affects 17 percent of all American kids.
Dr. Jeannine Cobb, a certified obesity medicine physician who began her weight management practice with Mercy Independence earlier this year, believes the current state of children’s health is somewhat alarming.
“Today, there are increasing rates of ‘adult’ diseases - such as Type II diabetes, high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol and sleep apnea – showing up in our kids,” Dr. Cobb explained. “This could be the first generation of children to actually live shorter lives than their parents.
 “The medical profession is coming around to the realization that obesity is an epidemic, and to effectively address the problem, we must educate our children about healthy lifestyles.”
That’s a key objective for physical education instructor Michael McCambridge, who teaches K-8 children in the Independence School District.
“I think it’s crucial to talk to kids about lifetime fitness concepts,” McCambridge said. “I hope they will use what they learn in PE as tools for activities they do later in life.”
Mercy agrees with the AMA and others on the need for more wellness education and has stepped up to help teachers like McCambridge by funding HealthTeacher, a computer-based curriculum resource reaching more than 800,000 students in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma – states with some of the highest obesity rates in the nation.  
At no cost to schools, Mercy’s nearly $7 million investment provides online tools for teachers to incorporate education about obesity and other health issues into lesson plans.
Locally, HealthTeacher is online in a total of 40 schools in 10 districts, reaching approximately 9,000 students. Southeast Kansas districts participating include Independence, Coffeyville, Cherryvale, Parsons, Caney, Neodesha, Fredonia, Chetopa-St. Paul, Oswego, Sedan, and Elk Valley; and the service also is in use at Holy Name Catholic School in Coffeyville.
“HealthTeacher is a critical investment in the health of our children and our communities,” said Eric Ammons, president of Mercy Hospital Independence. “It’s vital that we all – health care providers, teachers and even legislators - work together to help our kids be healthy.”
McCambridge has been using HealthTeacher for the past year and says he incorporates “mini-lessons” from the curriculum to teach his students key concepts. This year, he plans to also use the pre- and post-testing options within the program to gauge how much his students are learning.
For teachers, one of the best features of HealthTeacher is that it follows state and federal curriculum requirements across a wide range of subjects. Not only is it a resource for PE instructors like McCambridge, but the material is designed to be used by teachers in any classroom, from English, to math to social studies and beyond.
McCambridge encourages other teachers to take advantage of the HealthTeacher resource.
“If you aren’t utilizing (HealthTeacher), then you have great information that simply isn’t being put to use,” he said. “I will utilize it more this year than I have in the past, and I am excited to look at what (updates) are in store for the year.”