As noted on June 20 in The Oklahoman, a recent poll found that 90 percent of Americans believe schools should take a role in combating obesity.
To address this issue, Schools for Healthy Lifestyles (SHL) was inaugurated in 1997 by the Oklahoma County Medical Society, in conjunction with the Oklahoma City-County Health Department and the state Department of Health. It was the first and only comprehensive school-based health program in Oklahoma history.
The Oklahoma City school district was chosen for the initial venture comprising eight elementary schools. Today we have 59 elementary schools in 18 counties representing 27 school districts and serving roughly 30,000 students.
Five focus areas are taught to promote healthier lifestyles in students: nutrition, physical education, tobacco use prevention, injury prevention and dental care (in conjunction with the Oklahoma Dental Association.) SHL is the only program in Oklahoma that has statistically documented outcome data, thanks to Dr. Steve Sternlof of University of Oklahoma Department of Pediatrics and the Harold Hamm Diabetes Center. The most compelling data links improved academic scores with better health outcomes.
Because of the escalating and documented importance of practicing healthier lifestyles by the public, several other programs have entered the school-based health arena. These include, to name a few, Oklahoma Certified Healthy Schools, It’s All About Kids, Astec Charter Middle School (HealthCorps), Alliance for A Healthier Generation, YMCA, Health at School and Health Teacher through Mercy Hospital.
Schools for Healthy Lifestyles is a public/private partnership and has enjoyed significant support over the past 17 years. Now more than ever, we need continued support to help improve the health and productivity of Oklahomans.
We face a familiar dilemma — an increasing number of programs chasing the same donor pool.
What’s needed is a coordinated effort from these quasi-duplicative agencies to join forces under one umbrella in order to realize the most efficient maximum outcome from the monies contributed.
Bozalis is chairman of the board of Schools for Healthy Lifestyles Oklahoma.