First graders kick-off Fitness for Kids Challenge

First graders help kick-off Fitness for Kids Challenge with new interactive Theatre of Youth play

BUFFALO, N.Y. (November 28, 2012) – A class of first graders on Wednesday experienced firsthand what happens when you eat too much sugar from Theatre of Youth’s The Hidden Sugar Project production at the kick-off of the annual Independent Health Foundation’s Fitness for Kids Challenge held at Dr. George E. Blackman School of Excellence in Buffalo.

“It’s been very rewarding to watch the children embrace the Fitness for Kids Challenge through fitness and healthy eating programs, live theatre and family activities and we’re grateful to the schools and community centers that have enthusiastically implemented this program,” said Carrie Meyer, executive director, Independent Health Foundation. “As a community we’re starting to see the value in planting the seeds for a lifelong commitment to health at a young age.”

The health and wellness initiative, now in its fifth year, is offered to elementary school-aged children throughout Western New York and aims to bend the increasing trend of Type 2 diabetes and obesity in youth by encouraging them to engage in fitness activities and make healthy food choices. This year, participating schools are asked to make a healthy change, such as creating a healthy snack policy or including healthy snacks in school vending machines.

New this year is an interactive, theatre-based play The Hidden Sugar Project created by Theatre of Youth, in conjunction with Independent Health, to help children understand that hidden sugar – primarily found in beverages - is unhealthy. Two actors lead a journey into a “puppet boy’s” body to see what happens when he drinks too much sugar! The play also demonstrates the effects of sugar on teeth.

“There is quite an impact on kids when they see how much sugar is hiding in many of the beverages they drink daily and what sugar does to their bodies,” said Meg Quinn artistic director for Theatre of Youth. “The play helps kids make an emotional connection to their health and that helps them change their habits. We’ve seen that interest to change eating habits after similar productions and we’re hopeful for the same reaction with this theatre-based lesson. It’s a good enhancement of the Fitness for Kids Challenge this year.”

In advance of the performance, teachers will conduct a survey of how much and how often the students drink pop and other sugary beverages. In the weeks after seeing the show, the teacher will survey the students again to track if there has been any change in the amount of sugary beverages.

The Fitness for Kids Challenge has made a remarkable impact on the youth in our community, said Michael W. Cropp, M.D., president and chief executive officer, Independent Health.

“Through youth engagement programs, we can continue to make progress toward improving the health and wellness of our community,” Dr. Cropp said. “We all have a role to play in creating a culture of health in Western New York, and encouraging our children to adopt exercise, fitness and proper nutrition at an early age is something we can easily do. We’re grateful for the Theatre of Youth partnership that allows children to experience intimate interactive theater productions, like The Hidden Sugar Project, that are not only entertaining, but are an impactful way to teach children about the importance of living healthy lives.”

The Hidden Sugar Project is now on tour at area schools. Free bookings are currently being scheduled. Call the Foundation at 635-4959 to book a show.

In the Challenge’s first four years, 100,000 youth have been reached in approximately 200 schools throughout Western New York. The Fitness for Kids Challenge includes education, promotion, rewards, incentives, and community wide events based. It also includes grants, which are awarded to schools with the highest level of participation to be used for health and fitness initiatives. Since the start of the program, $43,000 in grant money has been awarded to more than 40 schools. School winners have purchased equipment for an outdoor training circuit, sports equipment and built an outdoor basketball court.

Go to www.fitnessforkidschallenge.com to follow the Fitness for Kids Challenge Crew – Jake, Tara, Emily, Rachel and Marco – and discover fun ways to stay active, learn how to eat right, find healthy recipes and register a school. For more information, call Independent Health Foundation at 716-635-4959.

Established in 1992, the Independent Health Foundation works to improve the health and well being of Western New York residents through awareness, prevention, education and other programs focused on community health priorities. For more information on the Foundation’s activities, visit www.independenthealth.com/foundation.