NJDOE News

HEALTHY KIDS SUMMIT

Assistant Commissioner Richard Ten Eyck
May 15, 2003

  • First Lady Dina Matos McGreevey, Commissioner Lacey, Secretary Kuperus, honored guests. Thank you for inviting me to be part of this important conference on children’s health. I would like to share with you how the Department of Education plans to address the serious health problems that have developed among our nation’s children.

  • According to the June 200 report issued by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), entitled Formative Research for a Campaign to Promote Healthy Weight Using Relevant Physical Activity and Nutrition Messages for Youth, current trends point to the need for more aggressive strategies to prevent and reduce obesity among young people. Recent studies report that an estimated 15 percent of children 6-19 years old are overweight. For adults, the statistics are double – 31 percent of adults 20 years and older or 59 million adults are obese compared to 23 percent in 1994.

  • The most dangerous side effect of obesity is the link to increased risk for physical ailments throughout life, including serious conditions such as high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, and psychological disorders to name just a few. As a society, we must make a commitment to reverse this trend much the way we have done with smoking and alcohol consumption.

  • To counter these trends, the CDC has begun to develop a comprehensive national strategy to prevent obesity among the youth of America.

  • The study utilized focus groups to help researchers understand people’s beliefs and issues pertaining to healthy and unhealthy eating, including how school programs and parents affect young people’s eating habits and physical activity levels.

  • Among the findings, many of the young people knew the fundamentals of eating healthy, although few reported doing it. They admitted they prefer unhealthy food but many did not realize how little nutritional value those foods have.

  • Another finding is significant as we try to improve the eating habits of students. Students reported that parents and school health classes are their initial sources of information as younger children, but kids tend model what their parents’ behaviors are rather than what parents say should be done. If the parent reads labels and selects healthy foods, there is a strong influence for the child to do the same. Having a friend that has healthy eating habits is another strong influence.

  • It is important that we understand the nuances of how habits of good nutrition and physical activity are influenced, because it is not enough to simply present facts to students. Our health habits are influenced by many factors, and we must create a norm that reinforces healthy behaviors constantly in school, at home, and in the community. There are also cultural differences that influence a child’s development of health habits.

  • Schools have enormous potential for helping students develop the knowledge and skills they need to be healthy and to achieve academically. When schools promote healthy eating and regular physical activity, they contribute to the basic health status of children, thereby optimizing their performance potential to ensure that "no child is left behind." From the point of view of the education system, the effects of obesity and poor health on learning are of extreme concern.

  • As educators, we must take advantage of the time we have with children in school to help them adopt behaviors that support a healthy, active lifestyle. We need to engage their parents and the community to serve as role models and to support children’s efforts to live healthier lives.

  • School staff—administrators and teachers alike—are forced to concentrate their energies on what the system dictates—academic achievement, test scores, and school report cards. However, educators have long recognized the relationship between a child’s health and his/her ability to perform in school.

  • Teachers know that hungry children have difficulty concentrating and that children who are obese are often bullied and harassed.

  • They know that children who lack stamina and fitness often find it difficult to meet the demands of the regular school day.

  • They know that children who have chronic illnesses, such as asthma or diabetes, face even greater challenges. Children who are not healthy may not even be in school and even when they are in school, they may be distracted, under stress, or exhausted.
  • In times of diminishing resources, educators must make hard choices, but we cannot ignore the connection between health and learning.

  • For example, the part of the brain that processes movement is the same part that processes learning. More than 80 studies suggest strong links between the cerebellum and memory, spatial perception, language, attention, emotions and nonverbal cues. The findings strongly implicate the value of physical education, movement, dance, and games in boosting cognition.

  • In 2001, the California Department of Education released a study that correlated the results of state-mandated fitness testing to achievement on the required Stanford Achievement Test. The analysis showed a significant relationship between academic achievement and physical fitness. In other words, students with higher test scores were more likely to also have higher fitness scores.

  • What are we doing in New Jersey to stem the tide of obesity and better prepare our students to make sound decisions about their health and wellness?

  • New Jersey has had a mandate for health, safety, and physical education since 1917. While many states adopted similar legislation around that time, New Jersey’s mandate is one of the few that continues to require all students in grades 1-12 to participate in health and physical education programs.

  • In support of the mandate, the New Jersey comprehensive health and physical education Core Curriculum Content Standards were first adopted by the State Board of Education in 1996. An updated version of the standards is being considered for adoption by the state board this summer.

  • The standards progressively prepare and empower students to use higher order thinking skills to address a myriad of wellness issues, now and throughout their lifetimes.

  • The standards focus on health, wellness, and lifestyle management with the goal of helping each child to develop and maintain a healthy, active lifestyle.

  • They provide schools with the structure to develop and implement a "wellness" curriculum that promotes the adoption of health-enhancing behaviors, such as healthy eating and regular physical activity.

  • In 1999, the department published a curriculum framework that provides schools and teachers with sample learning activities to meet the standards. In addition, the framework focuses on how to develop a quality, standards-based program.

  • The revised 2003 standards provide schools and teachers with a stronger framework for curriculum and assessment. Smaller grade-level clusters outline developmentally-appropriate content and skills, which are more rigorous and specific. The standards are organized by strands—that is, subsections within each standard that identify specific content.

  • For example, nutrition is a separate strand. Students in grades K-2 are expected to explain why some foods are healthier to eat than others.

  • In grades 3-4, students must be able to classify foods by group, source, nutritional content and nutritional value.
  • By the time students reach middle school, they must be able to discuss the short- and long-term benefits and risks associated with their food choices.

  • By the time they graduate from high school, New Jersey students should be able to design and evaluate a nutrition plan for a healthy, young adult.

  • Now let’s look at fitness.

  • Students in grades K-2 are expected to engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity that develops all components of fitness.

  • In grades 3-4, students must be able to explain how the body responds to vigorous exercise and be able to monitor physiological responses such as heart rate before, during, and after exercise.

  • By the end of middle school, New Jersey students must be able to perform at the intensity level needed to enhance cardiovascular fitness and must be able to measure target and recovery heart rates.

  • Finally, by the time students graduate, they should be able to develop and implement a training and fitness plan that considers their health status, interests, and skill levels.

  • This is but a sample of our commitment to healthier students. The core standards also address issues such as substance abuse, social and emotional health, and disease prevention.

  • This is a subject area that lends itself to authentic assessment. In fact, physical education teachers have long used rubrics to gauge student performance during activity. With the introduction of technology, student assessment becomes more objective and allows both student and teacher to use data to drive instruction. Later today, you will hear about several New Jersey schools that have won awards to incorporate technology into their physical education programs.

  • In health education, the department recently joined the Health Education Assessment Project, a 23-state collaboration sponsored by the Council of Chief State School Officers.

  • This project provides the state with a bank of test items, including performance tasks, that can be used by teachers in the classroom to assess student progress.

  • Assessment training, in conjunction with staff from Rowan University, will begin in the 2003-04 school year.
  • During lunch, the department will debut a video developed in collaboration with the New Jersey Council for Physical Fitness and Sports and NJN.

  • The "fitness for life" video showcases the "New PE" --physical education classes in Paterson, Ridgewood, Mount Laurel, and West Deptford.

  • The "fitness for life" campaign, supported with funds from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), will be broadcast on NJN as a series of five public service announcements. In addition, NJN will sponsor a Web page that will feature the video clips and information on fitness and health. There is a wealth of information in the extensive research on the CDC Web site at www.cdc.gov

  • Not limited to the gym or the classroom, comprehensive and coordinated school health programs provide prevention, intervention, and referral services that positively impact children’s health and academic success.

  • The coordinated school health team — teachers, nurses, social workers, counselors — all contribute to the physical, social, and emotional health of the child. Later today, you will hear about some of the promising research that supports the concept of coordinated school health and its impact on academic success.

  • We are all part of the problem—we all eat too much and ride when we should walk. We are not always the best role models for our children. But we have the power to change our own behavior and in the bargain improve our own health and fitness, as well as our children’s and grandchildren’s.

  • We have an opportunity to be part of the solution — a solution that requires us to be collaborative, vigorous, and persistent.

  • The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity 2000 recommend some actions we can take to make the climate more positive for healthy lifestyles. At home we can reduce time spent sitting in front of television or computer screens and build physical activity into as many parts of our routines as possible.

  • In schools, we should ensure that the school breakfast and lunch programs meet nutritional standards and provide less calories, and we should provide all children from preschool to grade 12 with quality daily physical education.

  • Even the community has a responsibility to promote healthy choices, encourage businesses that offer healthy food and beverages, and create opportunities for physical activity for the family.

  • Another resource for schools as they create programs to promote health is the publication "Fit, Healthy, and ready to Learn: A School Health Policy Guide" that provides direction on establishing an overall policy framework for school health programs for use by states and school districts. The guidelines are a collaborative effort of the CDC and the National Association of State Boards of Education.

  • We are glad to be part of this Action for Healthy Kids initiative and look forward to working with the Governor, the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Senior Services on projects that will ensure both the health and academic success of our 1.345 million children.