West Orange, NJ - The West Orange Board of Education Health and Wellness Committee is a group of community volunteers that work with the West Orange School District to educate and provide students and families in West Orange with ways to develop a healthy lifestyle. The Committee presented their ideas for district-wide programs to educate students and families in the West Orange community on issues of nutrition, physical health and physical activity at Mt. Pleasant School on April 15.

Sodexo, the District's food service provider, is on board to revise school menu components by utilizing low fat food options, whole grains, and reduced sugar in their recipes, as well as offering salad and fresh fruit at all schools.

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The Health and Wellness Committee has created a web page on the district website to share activities, recipes, and the latest health and wellness news. If the community has comments or questions they can email the link on the page. Visit the site at http://www.woboe.org/Wellness/Pages/default.aspx.

Childhood obesity, diabetes and related health issues are paramount on the minds of the Committee, who recognize that children in the US are the largest at-risk group.  They spend less time in physical activity than in any other generation and are the first US generation of children considered less healthy than their parents. Processed food, and fast food options, along with a lack of healthy food choices, and exercise, are of great concern to all health care providers.

Plans to set up a major health initiative called the Active Lifestyle Program, part of the Presidents Fitness Challenge, in all of the schools for the 2013-2014 school year are underway. Planting vegetable and herb gardens at all of the schools in the district are also being discussed. School nurses across the district are participating in the program.

“It is a voluntary program to educate students on the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.  I would love to have every child in the district sign our Health and Wellness Pledge that we are putting on the website and distributing throughout the schools,” said Steve Melendez, Health and Wellness Committee Chair and Edison Vice- Principal. “We'll be posting program activities throughout the year on our website and via local media."  The committee is currently planning a  Drop Everything and Dance program  for the week of June 10th at all West Orange elementary and middle schools.

The parents of the Mt. Pleasant Elementary School PTA were positive and had several questions and suggestions to share. “My daughter told me she likes the fresh salads offered at school better than the lunches that I make her,” laughed parent Sherley Jean-Baptiste. “I would like to see the children have more time to play outside after school to burn off some of that energy and calories,” she suggested. 

The average American consumes 47 pounds of cane sugar and 35 pounds of high fructose corn syrup each year, according to the USDA.   Each pound of sugar has 1755 calories and no nutritional value. A pound of body fat equals 3500 calories. That means Americans are getting 41 pounds of fat calories from sugar each year.

It is recommended that school aged children need one hour of exercise each day, which they can get in 15 and 30 minute segments. A child can burn up to 300 calories per hour just playing a friendly game of basketball.  Caloric intake for an active female 9-13 years of age should be between 1600-2000 calories a day, as recorded in About.com pediatrics. Check out your child's recommended daily caloric intake at : http://pediatrics.about.com/library/bl_calorie_calc.htm.

“I'm excited about the President's Challenge Active Lifestyle program and look forward to the possibility of working with students at West Orange High School. The 6-8 week program is a challenge that the majority of students would benefit from,” said Committee member Cecelia Minton, a health and wellness professional and parent in the district.

The West Orange Board of Education recently passed an updated Health and Wellness policy on first reading. “The West Orange Board of Education Health and Wellness Policy looks to meet and exceed the State benchmarks,” said WOBOE member and WO Health and Wellness Committee Member Laura Lab. “As a district and as a community we are working daily to ensure the best physical and emotional health of our children.”

For more on the NJ State Guidelines visit http://www.nj.gov/agriculture/divisions/fn/childadult/school_model.html.