More than 900 southeast Kansas third graders ran, jumped and burned up thousands of extra calories Friday when Pittsburg State University's Department of Health, Human Performance and Recreation (HHPR) hosted its 20th annual Kansas Kids Fitness Day. Although one day of physical activity won't solve what some experts call the nation's obesity crisis, organizers say they hope the message of the importance of regular physical activity hit its mark with the students.
Shelly Grimes, PSU fitness director and coordinator of Kansas Kids Fitness Day at PSU, said the event has a dual purpose.
"This is a great way to show the community and students what fitness is all about," Grimes said, "and it gives the HHPR majors a hands on learning experience with working with such a large number of kids."
Grimes said the students at Kansas Kids Fitness Day participated in a variety of fun activities like relay races, aerobic dance and karate. The activities, held at the Weede PE Building, were supervised by PSU physical education and recreation majors.
This year, Grimes said, the event teamed up with Michelle Obama's "Let's move in schools" initiative and they encouraged all the schools participating to sign up for the Obama program online.
Dr. John Oppliger, HHPR Department chairman, said Kansas Kids Fitness Day has strong ties to PSU.
"Dr. Tom Bryant (then a member of the HHPR faculty) was on the Governor's Council on Fitness when Kansas Kids Fitness Day began and was the grant director for the funds used to support the event across the state," Oppliger said.
Oppliger said Kansas Kids Fitness Day was designed as a noncompetitive activity event that is also educational.
"All third graders got enrichment bags with items ranging from jump ropes and flying disks to stickers, coloring books and water bottles, all of which relate to the theme of fitness and wellness," Oppliger said. "In addition, all of the third grade teachers received enrichment bags with things they may use and reproduce when teaching health and wellness concepts."
Oppliger said Kansas Kids Fitness Day targets third graders in an effort to reach children at risk of developing obesity at an early age.
"Obesity is at epidemic levels in the U.S.," Oppliger said, "and its costs in terms of dollars, lost productivity and related illness are enormous. We hope that by teaching kids about healthy lifestyles at an early age, we can reduce the incidence of obesity later in life and improve the quality of life for an entire generation of Americans."
Oppliger pointed to the 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted in Kansas High Schools to illustrate the size of the challenge facing educators. That survey indicated more than 25 percent of high school students in the state were either obese or at risk of becoming so. And while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children and adolescents participate in 60 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week, the Kansas survey indicated that fewer than half of Kansas high school students get that much exercise.
"I believe there's general understanding about the benefits of regular physical exercise," Oppliger said. "The key is making daily physical activity part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle."
Statewide, more than 18,000 children were expected to participate in Kansas Kids Fitness Day.
©2011 Pittsburg State University