'Walk to school' promotes healthy habits

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MAYNARD — Trent Carlson has the best class assignment in the MACCRAY School District.

"We try to make it as fun as possible," said Carlson of the physical education classes he offers students at MACCRAY West Elementary in Maynard.

His students had one up on him Wednesday morning. They arrived at the MACCRAY West Elementary in Maynard already laughing and having fun, and having discovered that their instructor is right: Physical activity is fun.

That's true even when the temperature is a minus 2 degrees. That's what the thermometer read as well-bundled elementary students at MACCRAY West in Maynard and MACCRAY East in Raymond participated in Minnesota's "walk to school day," the winter version. Students in the Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg district were also participants in the brisk, morning walk organized with help from the Statewide Health Improvement Partnerships serving the area counties.

The idea behind it all is to promote physical activity, and for good reason, according to Ashlie Johnson, who helped organize the MACCRAY West walk as the SHIP coordinator for Chippewa County.

Too many children are overweight or obese. In 2014, the Minnesota Department of Health found that 15 percent of children ages 2 to 5 were overweight and another 13 percent were obese. Overweight children have a body mass index of over 85 percentile for their age and sex, and obese children have a BMI over the 95th percentile.

Children and adolescents are now developing obesity-related diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, previously only seen in adults, the Minnesota Department of Health warns.

The number of obese and overweight children tripled in the state from 1990 through 2008, but has plateaued since, believed due to the efforts by SHIP and other organizations to promote physical activity and healthy eating. Johnson said the MACCRAY School District has taken to heart the importance of promoting healthy habits at an early age.

The district has been working with SHIP to promote more physical activity in classrooms, and is doing more to serve locally raised, healthy foods in its cafeterias, she said.

"Today was awesome," said Johnson of the walk-to-school event. Students who ride the bus to school were dropped off at the community centers in Maynard and Raymond. There, volunteer firefighters with the Maynard and Raymond departments, Raymond ambulance members, and law enforcement officers with the Chippewa County and Kandiyohi County sheriff's offices, Minnesota State Patrol and Clara City police joined teachers in escorting students to the elementary schools.

The students were greeted with applause and hot cocoa at the schools, but the best was to follow: Johnson said physical activity also improves a student's ability to learn.

"Getting them moving in the morning helps them focus in the classroom,'' Johnson said.

Students in the elementary schools participate in 35 minutes of physical activity each day, thanks to the district's physical education program.

Health experts recommend that students participate in 60 minutes of physical activity each day. This is what makes Carlson's emphasis on teaching that it's fun so important. His goal is to encourage his students to be physically active when they are not at school too. He knows that the temptation to be sedentary in front of electronic screens is great.

Are children getting enough physical activity?

"All kids could use more," said Carlson, who added that the amount of activity can vary greatly from student to student.

Unfortunately, adults are not always giving kids the best examples at home. Minnesota's rate of adult obesity has been rising, with 27.8 percent of adults classified as obese. The adult obesity rate is 30.8 percent in Chippewa County and the state rate of 27.8 percent is matched exactly in Kandiyohi County, according to Department of Health data.