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State Health, Education Leaders Hail Avonworth Middle School in Allegheny County for Boosting Physical Activity Among Students
Date:1/25/2010

PITTSBURGH, Jan. 25 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- During a visit today to Avonworth Middle School, Department of Health Secretary Everette James and Secretary of Education Gerald Zahorchak commended the school for its efforts to boost physical activity among students.

"One-third of all Pennsylvania children are overweight or obese, putting them at risk of a lifetime of health problems," said James. "Schools like Avonworth are making the health of children a top priority and fighting childhood obesity by increasing physical activity for students throughout the school day. These schools are proving that scheduling at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day is possible, and it improves student health and academic performance."

The middle school received one of 40 Active School grants awarded by the Department of Health through the federal Preventive Health and Health Services Block Grant. Schools received a $5,000 grant from the department and an additional $10,000 from one of five supporting organizations. The program requires schools to assess all participating students and to implement evidence-based physical activities that meet federal guidelines.

Schools were selected for participation based on their commitment to provide a health and fitness curriculum that adds 30 to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. According to a recent survey, only about 38 percent of the state's middle school students get that amount of activity.

"The connection between good health and academic achievement is well established in research," said Zahorchak. "Many schools are taking proactive steps to provide students with the opportunity not only to learn about the benefits of physical activity, but also to increasingly engage in exercise during the school day."

Childhood obesity rates have tripled in the last 25 years. Overweight children face an increased risk of health problems as adults, including diabetes, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis and certain types of cancer.

Obesity is more than a health risk; it also contributes significantly to the cost of treating chronic diseases which are responsible for at least 70 percent of all health expenditures.  A 2009 study found obese Americans — those who are 30 or more pounds over a healthy weight — cost the nation an estimated $147 billion in weight-related medical bills in 2008, double what it was ten years prior.

The Highmark Foundation provided funding to Avonworth Middle School and is also providing funds for 11 other participating schools.

"We're very grateful for the financial support of the Highmark Foundation and the other organizations that have joined this important effort," said James.

For more information on the Active Schools Grant Program, visit the Department of Health online at www.health.state.pa.us.

Media contact: Holli Senior, 717-787-1783

SOURCE Pennsylvania Department of Health

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