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"Get Fit Kids" Puts Pedometer Walking Program in Three Baltimore City Elementary Schools

Thursday, March 01, 2007

 Mariellen Synan helps a Westside Elementary student with his pedometer.

This spring, nearly 500 students at three Baltimore City elementary schools will be wearing pedometers as part of Get Fit Kids, a 12-week program that challenges the students to take at least 13,000 steps a day. The goal is to increase their activity level and improve their health. Get Fit Kids is the latest version of Get Fit Maryland, an award-winning wellness program from the University of Maryland Medical Center, the University of Maryland School of Medicine and Merritt Athletic Clubs, who joined together in 2005 to create a walking program aimed at raising awareness of the obesity epidemic and cardiovascular disease.

"With Get Fit Kids, we hope the students will learn that exercise can be fun and easy to do. We had great success with Get Fit Maryland for adults, but with the rising rates of childhood obesity, we wanted to find a way to bring these positive health messages to kids," says Kari Bichell, M.D., M.P.H., medical director for Get Fit Maryland and an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Get Fit Kids kicked off on Thursday, March 1, at Westside Elementary, when students in the third through fifth grades received backpacks filled with a pedometer, log books, a pen and a water bottle. Third through fifth graders at Bentalou Elementary and Frederick Elementary will also be participating and will receive their pedometers in a few days. Overall, approximately 500 students will take part.

During the program, the students will write down the number of steps registered on their pedometers each day and make an effort to increase the total. Other activities such as dancing or bicycling can be included in the step count.

"For adults, the goal is to walk at least 10,000 steps a day, but children are generally more active and should strive to get more steps. Based on the research for elementary school-aged children, we recommend at least 13,000 per day," says Anne Williams, R.N., M.S., director of Get Fit Kids and manager of the Patient Resource Center at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Each month, the participants will have their log books checked and, if they’ve been logging their steps, they will receive an incentive prize, such as a Get Fit Maryland wristband or socks. Students who finish the 12-week program will receive a jump rope and a certificate of completion.

"We are thrilled to be part of the Get Fit Kids program. We think it offers a wonderful way to motivate our students to be more active," says Havanah Kenlaw, principal of Westside Elementary.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the number of overweight school-aged children (ages 6-19 years) has nearly tripled since the 1970s. These overweight children are much more likely to become overweight or obese adults.

"With television, computers and video games, today’s kids are leading a more sedentary lifestyle and gaining weight, which puts them at greater risk for health problems such as heart disease," says Dr. Bichell. "And, because of the growing obesity rate in kids, we are also seeing more and more children with Type 2 diabetes, once called adult-onset diabetes, which is directly related to obesity. We hope Get Fit Kids provides a way for these children to get moving and reduce their risks for these potentially serious health problems."

"Get Fit Kids offers a great opportunity to get kids on a path to lifelong fitness and health, and we are eager to see how these students respond to the pedometer program," says Giancarla Calzetta, community health director with Merritt Athletic Clubs.

Sponsored by Merritt Athletic Clubs, the University of Maryland Medical Center and the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Get Fit Kids also received funding through a $35,000 grant from the Aetna Foundation.
The original Get Fit Maryland program, which won the 2005 Best of the Best award from Club Industry magazine, a national publication for the fitness industry, had more than 5,000 participants in its first two years.

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University of Maryland School of Medicine

 It didn't take long for students to get into the exercise spirit.

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