Nemours sets legislative priorities: Mission is to make Delaware's children the healthiest in the nation

By Lynn R. Parks

The Nemours Health and Prevention Services is asking for a 50-percent boost in state funding next year, from $200,000 to $300,000, for its Delaware Physical Education/Activity Program. The additional funding would allow up to 25 more schools to join the program, which encourages at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week for all school-age children. Now, 41 schools, including all schools in the Woodbridge School District, Central Elementary School in Seaford and Laurel Middle School, participate in the program. "All early indications are that the students are really responding well," said John Hollis, community relations director with Nemours. "There are fewer discipline problems and better student performance." On Monday, Nemours announced the legislative and regulatory changes that it will fight for over the next couple of years. In addition to more money for the school programs, the group, dedicated to helping children grow up healthy, would like for good student health to be a part of the official policies of Delaware's school districts and for the state, when it rates childcare facilities through its Delaware Stars for Early Success program, to look at whether the facility promotes good health. Nemours would also like to see the Delaware health care community adopt recommendations from the American Medical Association on how to best help overweight and obese children and their families. The recommendations were released last year following a two-year study by a committee of health-care experts, put together by the AMA. At that time, Cecil B. Wilson, chairman of the committee, called childhood obesity a "major public health problem."

According to Delaware Health and Social Services, 12.2 percent of children in Delaware aged 15 or younger are overweight. The percentage of overweight young people in the United States has tripled in the last 20 years, to 35 percent. Overweight children can face many health risks, including asthma, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. "There is no single cause of childhood obesity, and no single cure," said Debbie I. Chang, Nemours senior vice president and executive director of health and prevention services. "What we are trying to create, with the help of dozens of partners, is a cultural shift in Delaware that places the health of children at the top of the agenda." She added that schools, childcare facilities and doctor's offices are on the front line in fighting childhood obesity. Hollis said that making student health part of a school district policy ensures that that focus will continue, even as the school staff changes. "A policy governs what a school does," he said. "When something is part of a policy, it makes it more permanent." Bringing a focus on health to childcare facilities means that children are growing up thinking about ways to stay healthy, Hollis said. "They learn about it in their day-to-day activities, and when you change kids, then the parents come along." Hollis said that Nemours is "on a mission to make Delaware's children the healthiest in the nation." The organization promotes what it calls a 5-2-1-Almost None lifestyle: five or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily, no more than two hours daily in front of a television or computer screen, at least one hour of physical activity, and drinking almost no sugary beverages.

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