As a member of the Mayor’s Fitness Council, I’ve been very proud to be part of outreach efforts that encourage children in our community to get active and be healthy. Perhaps most importantly are initiatives that get young people actively involved in making changes in the community to help their peers live healthier.
Did you know that every year, we select 54 children in Bexar County in to be MFC Student Ambassadors? Students in grades 5-12 from public and private schools are selected through a competitive application process.
The goal is to recruit a diverse mix of students who are engaged to promote health in their school, neighborhood and families. Each student ambassador is responsible for implementing a strategy on campus or in their community to improve the level of physical activity and nutritional choices we all make.
For example, student ambassadors may observe how children go to school – walk, ride the bike, take the bus or get dropped off – and then poll those who are not walking or biking about why they don’t do that.
Small changes can make a difference. Kids may suggest that children who are driven to school ask their parents to let them walk the last block or so instead of being dropped off at the front door.
They might examine whether the school participates in any programs or initiatives for physical health and, if not, children can encourage teachers and administrators to sign up. Some programs children may advocate for include:
Jump Rope for Heart (sponsored by the American Heart Association)
Go Kids Challenge (sponsored by San Antonio Sports and University Health System)
As you can tell, this is really a grass-roots campaign designed to get students to take ownership of their community’s overall health. The Mayor’s Fitness Council is hoping to develop student leaders and to learn from them about how we can make San Antonio a more fit community.
For example, we have already learned two key findings from our experience with the MFC Student Ambassador program:
- Food sold outside of school meals through fundraisers and concessions is primarily unhealthy and may negatively impact children’s diets.
- Consistent with national data, walking and biking to school is limited among schools represented by student ambassadors.
These findings led the MFC to make these key recommendations for increasing physical activity and healthy eating:
- Nutritional Standards for all Foods and Beverages in Schools – Schools can implement nutritional standards for all foods and beverages in schools, including vending machines, items sold in a la carte lines and school stores, fundraisers, classroom parties, rewards in the classroom, and healthy concessions at school-related events outside of the school day.
- Promote Physical Activity in Schools – Schools can promote physical activity before, during, and after the school day, including daily classroom physical activity breaks, recess, walking and bicycling to/from school, walking programs or “open gym” before/after school, and intramural sports teams.
Kids can help shape after-school activities, all-day nutritional choices and family activities in ways that have a more personal impact on their peers and relatives. They also can help us learn more about the impediments to community health (limited access to affordable, healthy food choices or promotion of unhealthy food options, for example) to help shape policies that make healthy living easier.
If you are interested in learning more about the program, contact Andrea Bottiglieri, the Mayor’s Fitness Student Ambassador Coordinator, at Andrea.Bottiglieri@sanantonio.gov or (210) 857-5378.
Dr. Annette “Dr. Z” Zaharoff heads the Non-Surgical Center of Texas, focusing on non-surgical alternatives to relieve pain and repair injuries. A former professional tennis player who competed in the WTC circuit, Dr. Zaharoff remains actively involved with the US Tennis Association. Learn more about her at www.drzmd.com.