The American Heart Association is expanding the fight against childhood obesity in Syracuse schools. On Wednesday, the AHA announced the second year of the Growing Healthy Hearts program in the Syracuse City School District. This year, the program is expanding to seven elementary schools.
About 30% of kids and teens in the U.S. are overweight or obese. In the Syracuse City School District, that number is a little higher at about 37% of students. Childhood obesity can lead to a range of health problems as children grow up, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, asthma, and more.
The Growing Healthy Hearts program, made possible through a sponsorship from St. Joseph’s Health, gives students and their families in seven elementary schools special access to health activities and messages with different themes each month. Students will receive a toy character from the AHA’s team of cartoon characters to help teach healthy habits. Each character represents a different habit, such as avoiding tobacco products, adding fruits and vegetables to meals, being physically active, being mentally prepared for school and even being kind to others.
During the first year of the program, students remembered the habits connected to the characters well after the original lesson. The Growing Healthy Hearts program also supported the Syracuse City School District in meeting NYS Physical Education Mandates for elementary schools, specifically in the original five schools of the program. Students in grades K-3 receive daily physical education for 120 minutes per week. Students in grades 4-5 receive physical education three times per week for a total of 120 minutes. The Growing Healthy Hearts program also helps the school district by aligning with new NYS mandates for mental health education.
“The Growing Healthy Hearts program is focused on schools, but it’s not just about what happens in class,” said Franklin Fry, American Heart Association executive director. “We want students to learn healthy habits they can bring home and keep for life. Our goal is to create a world of longer, healthier lives, so we’re proud to work with schools to help ensure the health and well-being of students. We want kids learn the importance of protecting their hearts early on, so they can grow up to be healthy, happy adults.”
In addition to health lessons at school, the program will also provide a monthly newsletter written in English and Spanish for students to bring home to their families. The Growing Healthy Hearts program is working with the Onondaga County Health Department and the Transforming Communities Initiative to extend the healthy lessons to local corner stores, libraries, and other community locations.
Growing Healthy Hearts is in seven schools and reaches about 4,400 students. The program is returning in the original schools Dr. Weeks Elementary School, Franklin Elementary School, Porter Elementary School, Seymour Dual Language Academy, and Van Duyn Elementary School. Additional schools this year are H.W. Smith Pre-K-8 School and McKinley-Brighton Elementary School. Schools were chosen by a panel including AHA, St. Joseph’s Health, and the Syracuse City School District. Panel members considered several factors including student population, community need, and programs already in place.
“A healthy community benefits everyone and it’s never too early to educate children about making good decisions about diet, exercise and nutrition,” said Leslie Paul Luke, president and CEO of St. Joseph’s Health. “When we educate children and their families, we provide them with the tools that enable them to be their healthiest selves, now, and in the future. In doing so, we strengthen the foundation for a healthier community.”
“Physical education and health education are an important part of our curriculum in the Syracuse City School District,” said Syracuse City School District Superintendent Jaime Alicea. “Through our partnership with Growing Health Hearts we are working together to ensure that our students and families understand the importance of leading a healthy, active lifestyle and the impact that has on their learning.”
Future monthly themes for the Growing Healthy Hearts program include physical activity for different seasons, anti-tobacco messages, eating more fruits and vegetables, cutting back on sodium, healthy cooking and more.