Beyond gym class: How cities can help kids increase their physical activity

CTGlogo2Who plays a role in making sure kids get enough exercise each day? Parents certainly. Schools, yes—that’s why we have gym class and recess. But what about city governments? Well, it turns out that they can play a role, too.

Des Moines is one city that has taken the charge head on and is seeing results. Like many cities across the country, Des Moines faces a high rate of childhood obesity. With the help of the Community Transformation Grant, the City revamped their K-FIT programs. These programs teach fitness, nutrition, and health to kids ages 4 to 14 before and after school and during the summer.

To bolster this new curriculum, the City Department of Parks & Recreation adopted new physical activity standards, including a minimum of 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity in all-day City programs and 30 minutes in before and after school programs.
fabfiveEngaging the Kids in Fitness
The City’s new curriculum incorporates the FAB 5 characters: Cardio Kid (cardiorespitory endurance), BC (body composition), Max (muscular strength), Maddy (muscular endurance), and Flexy (flexibility). The characters help kids remember the different types of physical strength and give them something specific to strive for.

“Our kids know all of the FAB 5 characters and the five components of fitness word by word,” one activity leader said.

Sustaining the Program through Activity Leader Training
In addition to getting kids to be more engaged, the City supported the K-FIT activity leaders in learning the new curriculum. K-FIT activity leaders, many of whom have been with the City for years, received trainings and a tool kit to make implementation easy (including a lesson guide and CD, laminated signs, posters, and cards.) The City also created a training video that included nutrition and physical activity facts and information on the obesity epidemic in south King County, the K-FIT program and the physical activity standards, teaching strategies, and tips on how to manage and motivate students.

Robyn Holmes, a K-FIT Activity Leader at Des Moines Elementary School was grateful for the support from the City and proud of her role in the program, “We are leading the charge to prevent childhood obesity and we’re seeing a difference in the student’s knowledge and physical activity levels!”

des moines k-fit team
Des Moines K-FIT Team

The Result: Kids Are More Active
Des Moines’s new approach to increasing physical activity is working. The percentage of time that kids are active in before and after school programs increased from 24% to 40%, doubling the amount of time from 11 minutes to 24 minutes of being active.

Clearly parents and schools are key to encouraging kids to get exercise. But it will take all institutions in our community taking a look at their policies and encouraging active living in order to turn the obesity epidemic around. There’s a lot to learn from the work of Des Moines. Check out a video about the K-FIT program here:

This blog post is part of a series highlighting successful initiatives as part of the Community Transformation Grant (CTG). In September 2012, partners Seattle Children’s Hospital, Public Health – Seattle & King County, and the Healthy King County Coalition (HKCC) received a grant to work with local governments, schools, hospitals, low-income housing groups, and community organizations to improve the health of communities in South Seattle and South King County. Find out more here: