Leveling the playing field: Healthy students are better students

Fuel Up to Play 60 program scores in Oakland County

By: Jessica Strachan | Southfield Sun | Published April 23, 2014

SOUTHFIELD — Being a healthy kid isn’t one size fits all.

It is, however, a team sport, and that’s what had Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and Detroit Lions mascot Roary joining more than 300 students and staff at Southfield’s MacArthur University Academy April 17 to celebrate kicking off a new and improved Fuel Up To Play 60 program.

FUTP60 empowers students to improve their health by making small, everyday changes at school and in their communities. It was founded by the National Dairy Council and the National Football League, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

A team of parent volunteers and 11 students at MacArthur University Academy came together two years ago to create an environment to support students who make healthier choices, and thanks to a $500 incentive package from Oakland County Health Division, the school was able to expand on its efforts.

“Fighting childhood obesity has always been among the priorities of my administration,” Patterson said in a press release. “We are excited to be the first county government in Michigan partnering with schools throughout Oakland County to launch Fuel Up To Play 60.”

Bill Mullan, Oakland County communications and media officer, said the hope is to introduce FUTP60 to each and every elementary school in the county. MacArthur was a great place to start because it’s proven to be an all-star when it comes to healthy lifestyle initiatives, he said.

“The great thing about this program is that you can basically design it to the needs and resources of the school,” he said. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of program, and we want to encourage schools to dive in, in their own way.”

The Health Division received the funds from the United Dairy Industry of Michigan to increase participation in FUTP60 among elementary schools in Oakland County, he added.

At the MacArthur event, students tasted healthy foods, and took part in fitness exercises and even dancing.

There was a band, student poetry readings, and information on healthy eating and physical activity. Footballs signed by Detroit Lions players were raffled off to participating students.

“I’m excited about this program because there is a need for all of us — students, staff and parents — to become healthier and more physically active,” said Vicki Bayne-Perry, MacArthur principal. “The alignment between the school and the parents has made this a success. The school is offering healthier choices, and in turn, the parents are doing the same. They are out walking, biking and exercising with their kids.”

Mullan said part of the appeal was the national track record of success and the incentives, which are undeniably cool.

“At some schools, NFL players are visiting the students. That stuff is pretty exciting for elementary kids, especially if they are big fans,” he said.

The program is more than freebies and fresh foods, though. FUTP60 aims to create an entire culture of wellness within school districts across the nation.

FUTP60 brings together research and reports to demonstrate the difference in achievement, such as the findings from The Wellness Impact: Enhancing Academic Success Through Healthy School Environments — a report created by The GENYOUth Foundation, the National Dairy Council, the American College of Sports Medicine and the American School Health Association.

The report reinforces the critical link between solid nutrition, physical activity and academic performance.

The report predicted that a balanced breakfast, for example, could promote higher academic achievement — a healthier student with better attendance, higher test scores, better career opportunities and lower health care costs.

The cost of poor nutrition, however, could have a reverse impact on each of those things and have a domino effect of negative consequences.

Neuroimaging suggests that physical fitness may benefit cognition and brain health, as well as academic performance, according to the report. One researcher found more brain activity in the areas of memory, attention span and academic performance in children who had taken a 20 minute walk compared to children who had been sitting quietly for 20 minutes.

Whether it’s a physical education class, recess, or exercise before or after school, the report noted that this kind of activity strengthens the learning connection.

The Wellness Impact report illustrated the idea that it’s all about the schools and how much the administration uses its role in  students’ lives to cultivate healthy behaviors.

Southfield Public Schools regularly hosts school supply drives before the start of the school year, as well as a Back to School Health and Wellness Fair that offers screenings, resources and giveaways.

According to Jacqueline Robinson, spokesperson for the district and coordinator of the event, past years have drawn overwhelming support from community partners.

The district operates with the motto that healthy bodies and sound minds make for successful students, and Robinson said that students — and their families — feeling in tip-top shape is “tantamount” to a great school year.

Any Oakland County school that wants to sign up for Fuel Up To Play 60 can contact Trisha Zizumbo of the Oakland County Health Division at (248) 452-9174 or zizumbot@oakgov.com. For more information on the program, visit www.FuelUpToPlay60.com.