Millis seventh-grader Kaitlin Babin-Devine is spooning sugar into a clear plastic container, waiting for the scales to balance. Finally, after about a third of a cup sits on the scale, it starts to tip.
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She and her classmates are measuring the sugar in their favorite 20-ounce sodas.
"That's a lot of sugar, a little too much," says her lab partner, Hannah Pitman, eyeing the scale.
All Millis seventh- and eighth-graders are spending one semester each year in this daily course, Foundations of Health and Fitness, which is one-third class time and two-thirds physical activity. The course, a pilot program from the MetroWest Community Health Care Foundation's Childhood Obesity Initiative, is highlighted in a new report from the foundation, which has poured about $1.85 million into the problem regionally since 2006.
The foundation's report, the 2006 MetroWest Adolescent Health Survey, found that 20.4 percent of area seventh- and eighth-grade students and 19.9 percent of high school students are overweight or obese. The figures put area youths in better shape than their state and national peers, although foundation officials say they want to make even greater strides.
"We hope we can really begin to have an impact locally," said Martin Cohen, president of the foundation. "What we're trying to do is not only educate folks about the issue, but also create some programming in local communities that begins to really go after those two issues: what are kids doing in terms of exercise . . . and also to get them to understand what are good, nutritious foods they should be focusing on."
So far, the Millis course is the only program of its kind sponsored by the foundation, which has also provided grants for efforts to improve nutrition and fitness at a number of area schools.
In addition to hands-on lessons like the sugar lab, the students engage in physical activity, such as making their way through a series of weight machines while watching a heart monitor to make sure they are working hard enough to get fit. Students have to keep written records of their regimen.
What a wonderful program. I think as adults many of us aren't aware of what is in our food or proper exercise techniques. It is wonderful that schools are realizing that this an area where instruction is needed.