HARRISBURG, Pa., May 12 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Pennsylvania's elementary schools can now apply for the Active Schools Grant Program for the 2010-11 school year, the secretaries of Health and Education announced today.
This is the second year of the Active Schools Grant Program, which was designed to increase daily physical activity for students during the school day. It was first launched in middle schools last year and is being made available to elementary schools this year.
"Given the successful implementation of the Active Schools Program in middle schools, we wanted to also give elementary schools an opportunity to put evidence-based programs in place that get kids active for at least 30 minutes every day," said Secretary of Health Everette James. "Physical activity is important not only to reduce childhood obesity, but for all children to develop strong bones, a healthy heart and sharp minds."
Based on 2007-08 body mass-index (BMI) data submitted by school districts to the Department of Health, 31.73 percent of Pennsylvania children in grades K-6 were either overweight or obese. While this percentage is down from 32.74 in the 2006-07 school year, the current rate is three times what it was just 25 years ago.
Overweight children are at higher risk for diseases like diabetes as adolescents and for costly, life-shortening chronic conditions like heart disease as adults.
"All of the research now confirms the connection between physical activity and school performance," said James. "Kids that get the recommended amount of physical activity are healthier and do better in school."
Schools that participate in the Active Schools Grant Program assess student fitness at the beginning and end of the year, and implement evidence-based physical activity programs that meet the federal guidelines of moderate to vigorous daily physical activity. Schools may select programs from a preapproved list provided by the departments, or design and offer their own program that provides students with at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every school day.
Applications for the 2010-11 school year will be accepted through 5 p.m. on June 10.
Funding for Active Schools is made available through a public-private partnership between the departments and six foundations and health insurers in the commonwealth. Schools receive a $5,000 grant from the Department of Health's federal Preventative Health and Health Services Block Grant and an additional $10,000 from a match-funding organization in their region.
Participating partners include Independence Blue Cross, Highmark's Healthy High Five Foundation, Capital Blue Cross, Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania's Blue Ribbon Foundation, the UPMC Health Plan and United Healthcare.
This year, the Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers football teams have also joined as Active Schools partners, and their "Play 60 Challenge" has been added to the list of recommended programs.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends children ages 6-17 engage in one hour of physical activity each day. Most of that time should be spent doing either moderate- or vigorous-intensity activity, such as brisk walking, playing tag, jumping rope, playing soccer or swimming.
"Healthy and active children are less likely to be sick, more likely to be attentive in the classroom and ultimately have greater academic success," said acting Secretary of Education Thomas E. Gluck. "The Active Schools grants are a great opportunity for schools to implement health and physical activity programs that will surely yield healthier and more successful students."
On Thursday, May 6, the State Board of Education, chaired by Joe Torsella, advanced proposed student nutrition and physical activity standards that would make Pennsylvania's response to the growing obesity epidemic one of the nation's strongest. The regulations would set baseline nutritional standards for foods provided outside reimbursable school meals, including items dispensed from school vending machines and sold through fundraisers. The regulations also require 30 minutes of daily physical activity for every student, while giving schools broad discretion in implementation.
For more information on the Active Schools Grant Program, visit www.health.state.pa.us/activeschools.
Holli Senior, Department of Health; 717-787-1783
David DeKok, Department of Education; 717-783-9802
SOURCE Pennsylvania Department of Health