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FRANKFORT - The Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH) and its partners have selected 41 high schools to receive grants to develop or improve the nutritional, physical activity or tobacco prevention policies at their schools.
The $500 grants are part of the Students Taking Charge program offered by Kentucky Action for Healthy Kids (KYAFHK).
Students Taking Charge provides students with the tools necessary to develop healthy policies and environments within their schools. Through the program, students learn to assess the current school environment, come up with an action plan to address needs and implement the plan to create long-lasting changes. Money for the grants comes from federal funding to support health promotion activities.
“If we are going to help our young people develop the skills and knowledge needed to lead long, healthy lives, we have to get them invested in the process,” said Steve Davis, M.D., acting commissioner for DPH. “That’s exactly what Students Taking Charge was designed to do. Through this program, students become a part of the process and their ideas about health and wellness are reflected in school policy and programming.”
In addition to Kentucky Action for Healthy Kids, the Kentucky Coordinated School Health Initiative, the Kentucky Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Program, and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation are involved with the program.
The overall goal of Students Taking Charge is to address the major health needs facing the state’s youth – increasing physical activity, reducing tobacco use and improving nutrition.
According to the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, only 16.7 percent of Kentucky students reported having eaten five servings of fruit and vegetables every day over a week’s time, and only 39.9 percent of students have been physically active for an hour on five days during a week.
Tobacco use remains high as well, with 31.9 percent of students reporting using a tobacco product in the past 30 days, including cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, snuff or dip.
“We have to create programs that get our young people involved in the process and on the path to lifelong health and wellness,” said Victoria Greenwell, Coordinated School Health administrator for DPH and co-chair of KYAFHK. “If we wait until children are grown to introduce them to healthy environments or sensible eating and exercise plans, it’s often too late. We have to act now to instill the values of leading a healthy lifestyle.”
The work of KYAFHK is already being reflected in some schools around the state. For example, the Health Occupations Students of American chapter at Mercer County Senior High School took action to improve access to healthy food, resulting in the addition of a twice-weekly salad bar option for the student body. In addition, agriculture classes grow and supply some of the tomatoes used in food service operations at the school.
“We hope to see this effort replicated throughout the state with the assistance of these 41 grant awards,” said Greenwell.
Locally, Bullitt East High School Future Business Leaders of America chapter was awarded a tobacco prevention grant.