Hospital and elementary school team up to battle childhood obesity

By: Cari DeLamielleure-Scott | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published March 5, 2014


WEST BLOOMFIELD — Maintaining consistency with Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! program, Sheiko Elementary and the West Bloomfield School District have partnered with Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital to help reduce childhood obesity and improve children’s overall health and nutrition.

From 1963-2008, the percentage of obesity rose from 4-19.6 percent, said Sheiko Elementary teacher Marla Gartner at a presentation for West Bloomfield elementary principals and state Sen. Mike Kowall Feb. 24. Gartner also is in charge of the school’s nutritional program. The percentages were taken from a report produced by the Centers for Disease Control, which has characterized childhood obesity as a national crisis.

Sheiko Elementary has implemented a pilot program — Chef for a Day, Farmer for a Day — that not only teaches healthy choices, but provides students with hands-on experiences in the classroom and at Henry Ford Hospital’s Demonstration Kitchen and greenhouse. The program is funded through grants and contributions from Oakland County, the Brooksie Way, the West Bloomfield Educational Foundation, Sheiko’s PTO and parent contributions, said Michelle Lutz, resident farmer for Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital.

The pilot program consists of five hands-on visits. Two visits are held at the hospital and three visits include the Henry Ford team visiting Sheiko Elementary. Third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students of Sheiko Elementary began the program with a visit to the Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital in September for approximately two hours, Lutz said. Half of the time was spent in the Demonstration Kitchen, where the students were shown a presentation on nutritional/life skill concepts. The remaining time was dedicated to a tour of the organic greenhouse, where the students learned about sustainable farming with beneficial insect releases, plant projects, and hydroponics and aquaponic systems reviews.

Hydroponics is a method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions in water instead of soil. In lieu of soil, Lutz said the hospital uses coir, which is a natural fiber extracted from coconut husk that retains water and nutrients well.

“The coir is a way for hydroponic growers to use more sustainable, organic techniques,” Lutz said. “They (the students) do a plant project while they are with us. They make a mini greenhouse using coir.”

In addition to the plant project, Sheiko students released ladybugs, which are beneficial insects, onto the plants.

“That helps children understand there are a lot of beneficial insects in the environment, and a chemical-free approach to growing is better for the environment and our human bodies,” Lutz said.

Henry Ford Hospital is installing six flood and drain stations in six classrooms at Sheiko Elementary. Students in those classrooms will serve as ambassadors and teach other students what they have learned about life cycles, Gartner said at the presentation.

For the second visit, the Henry Ford team traveled to Sheiko Elementary to teach the 5-2-1-0 formula and the importance of healthy eating habits. The 5-2-1-0 formula is five fruits and vegetables a day, two hours of screen time per day, one hour of physical activity per day and zero sugar-added drinks, explained Gartner during the presentation to the elementary principals.

“I think … we’re going to see things ... in the future where different entities — universities, hospitals, businesses — are going to be partnering up with education,” Sen. Mike Kowall said. “It’s getting back to planting that seed, getting them excited and moving on from there.”

The third visit, which took place mid-February at Sheiko Elementary, focused on the zero-sugar-added drinks. The Henry Ford team discussed label reading, salt-sugar-fat dosage and healthy beverage options. The students also tested their “sugar smarts” as the Henry Ford team had the students match containers of sugar to sugary drinks.

The fourth visit will take place at Sheiko Elementary in April and consist of daily exercise and physical activity, Instant Recess and screen-time. Instant Recess, Lutz said, is a 10-minute routine that can be done throughout the day and involves marching for 10 seconds and moving for 10 seconds for up to 10 minutes.

“You can be creative. You can come up with your own moves, but you want to take turns working your upper and lower body,” Lutz said. “It’s a new way to get kids either re-energized or refocused. … The idea is to teach that alternating habit to children, and they can come up with their own routine and show their leadership skills.”

The fifth and final visit will take place at the hospital toward the end of May and includes time in the Demonstration Kitchen, a Zumba/yoga class and a graduation ceremony.

“I think it (the program) seems to be working quite well, and seeing testimonies, we feel that we’ve been giving a good program. We’re interested in finding more elementary schools willing to participate in the program,” Lutz said.