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Pennsylvania Secretaries of Health, Education Announce New Grant Initiatives to Curb Childhood Obesity, Boost Physical Activity in Schools

HARRISBURG, Pa., May 26 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Pennsylvania is partnering with schools to reduce childhood obesity and help students enjoy a healthier and longer life, Secretary of Health Everette James and Secretary of Education Gerald Zahorchak announced today.

James and Zahorchak visited Albert Gallatin South Middle School in Point Marion, Fayette County, to announce two new initiatives aimed at increasing physical activity for middle school students.

"The prevalence of obesity among Pennsylvania children is alarming. Based on recent data, more than one-third of school aged children are overweight or obese," said Secretary of Health Everette James. "Children who are not physically active are at higher risk for Type II diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, arthritis and some cancers. By working with children early in life, we can prevent chronic diseases and lay the foundation for a healthy adulthood."

Under the Active Schools Grant program, the Department of Health will provide middle schools $5,000 to implement evidence-based physical activity programs that meet the federal guidelines of moderate to vigorous daily physical activity. The funding is available through the federal Preventive Health and Health Services Block Grant. A number of statewide foundations have agreed to provide a 2:1 match to the federal grant funds. Applications for the 2009-2010 school year will be accepted June 1 through June 30. Funding may also be available at a later date for schools to renew their application for the 2010-11 school year.

Schools will be provided a list of proven programs they can use to structure their own programs in order to meet the daily/weekly recommended physical activity requirements under the grant agreement.

The Department of Education also announced today that recipients of the 21st Century Learning Center Grants will be required to incorporate at least 30-60 minutes of physical activity into after-school and summer programs. Last year, Pennsylvania schools received $44 million in these non-school hour enrichment grants.

"Children today spend twice as much time in front of video games and TV screens as they do exercising," said Secretary of Education Gerald Zahorchak. "We know there is a direct link between physical fitness and school performance. These initiatives will bring a renewed focus to the important role that schools and communities play in ensuring the health of students."

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends children ages 6-17 should engage in one hour of physical activity each day. Most of that time should be spent doing either moderate- or vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity. It should include muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening activity at least three days per week. Only about 38 percent of the state's middle school students get the recommended amount of activity, according to a recent survey.

For more information on the Active Schools Grant Program, visit the Department of Health Web site at

    Stacy Kriedeman, Health
    (717) 787-1783

    Michael Race, Education
    (717) 783-9802

SOURCE Pennsylvania Department of Health
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