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CURRENT ISSUE:  March 22, 2010
VOL. 48, NO. 6   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page stories
Bishops reiterate objection to abortion wording in health care legislation
Eucharistic Adoration at cathedral all night on Holy Thursday
Richmond fifth graders
run toward better health

Working to get in shape are fifth graders, from left, Kevin Flores, Antonio Aponte, Frankie Magana (partially hidden), and John Moore.

For the past several weeks, fifth graders at St. David School in Richmond have been learning how to fight obesity and stay healthy — not seated at their desks but running outside their classroom and beyond. They are also in training for a 5K twilight run on March 27 at the inaugural Oakland Running Festival.

Fifth graders, from left, Arianna Mittelbuscher, Gabriela Juarbe, and Reina Mejia run in the school yard of St. David School during their training for this week’s Oak-land Running Festival.
To prepare for the run, the students jog around the school campus during the school day as part of their physical education time. Parents have been helping with the 30-40 minute sessions because the school does not offer a regular P.E. program. The twice-weekly program includes stretching exercises and sprints. Some students are also spending part of their Saturdays running with their parents at Point Isabel.

By mid-March, most of the students were running about four miles a week. “They are in good shape and are ready to run,” said Ann Pires, principal. She will join them at the 5K event “but I will be walking,” she said.
Faculty members and some students from other grades plan to join the fifth graders at the event as well. “Everybody is pretty excited,” said Pires.

The 5K event is the highlight of a campaign mounted by several fifth grade parents to promote better health and fight obesity among their children — by getting them to eat healthier foods and increase their exercise.

According to recent research, as many as one in three children in the U.S. is either overweight or obese. Part of the blame has been placed on an increased consumption of junk foods as well as a decline in physical activity among children.

First Lady Michelle Obama recently made the issue of childhood obesity the focus of a national campaign called “Let’s Move.” In addition to helping children become more physically active, the program will help boost awareness of the dangers of obesity and make healthy food more accessible and affordable throughout the country.

Cio Hernandez, the mother of a fifth grader at St. David’s, spearheaded the idea of getting parents to lead groups of children in the training sessions. “We’re not encouraging speed, just everyone going at their own speed,” she said.

Parents also talk to students at the end of the training sessions about nutrition and making healthy food choices. “We’ve gotten questions like, ‘What if I like fast food?’ The children are putting that out there,” said Hernandez, who works on public health issues among low-income communities in Marin County.

She believes that addressing healthy living is important when children are young and are better able to incorporate positive habits into their lives. With good nutrition and regular exercise, children are better able to concentrate in school, deal with stress and sleep well.

Jose Lopez is one of several St. David parents who have been training alongside their children. He said the program has been helping both him and his daughter, Briana, get into shape.

Being more active is especially important for his family which has a history of diabetes, he said. “This is one way to curtail diabetes,” he said.

Since he began training with his daughter, Lopez, 35, has seen physical improvements. When he started jogging he would lag behind the students and other parents as the group put in their laps. Now, “I’m kind of right in the middle of the crowd,” he said. And more importantly the workouts have helped him to feel better.
Briana Lopez, 10, has also enjoyed working out. “I like sprinting; that’s my favorite part,” she said. “It is very nice to run around the marina.”

Both father and daughter have also vowed to eat better and not to go to fast food restaurants as often. Both gave up a favorite food, pizza, for Lent. And the entire family has been eating a lot more vegetables and fruit.
Briana’s favorites are strawberries, apples and bananas. “I also like eating salad,” she said.

Adopting healthier food choices has not been easy, said her father. “You see people eating foods you want and you have to maintain your composure. You tell yourself to be strong and remember why we are doing this — to be healthy and live a long life. That’s the way I’m looking at it, but it is tough.”

Lopez is grateful to Cio Hernandez for starting the fitness effort at St. David’s. “If not for her I wouldn’t be jogging right now. It inspired me to get a membership at the gym.”

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