Maybe you remember or have heard of dodgeball, jumping jacks or tag from days in physical education classes as a child.

Young Flagstaff Unified School District students are getting an average of 35 minutes of this kind of instruction per week, as P.E. has been competing with academics for students' time and funding for instructors has been cut.

That's about to change, though.

Flagstaff Medical Center is donating $1 million to add full-time instructors to each FUSD elementary school, along with workout equipment and coaching for teachers. Sessions would held before school and during the lunch recess.

It's one idea for reducing the 31 percent of FUSD's elementary school students who are overweight or obese, putting them at a statistically greater risk of becoming obese adults.

The hospital plans to hire 10 instructors on a year-to-year basis and also give classroom teachers a way to teach while doing exercise (picture a jumping game, while watching a health lesson on a large display).

STARTING IN FALL

Wellness, nutrition and health courses will be part of the program, to start this fall.

The proposal is to increase daily workout time from the current less than 7 minutes per day, to more than 50 minutes per day for 5,000 elementary students before school and during lunch.

Kids would have the option of participating in adult-led activities in those times.

Fit Kids of Arizona (FMC's child-obesity program) plans to compare body-mass indices, test scores and minutes of activity now and into the future, to see what happens.

FMC plans to add middle schools next year, then high schools in 2014-2015.

Part of the plans have various athletes showing kids how to do various exercises, and videos streamed into classrooms, said Fit Kids Director Rich Henn.

He said he hopes the kids take what they've learned home to their parents.

This is a welcome change for Julie Elliott, who's had 29 years teaching P.E.

"I can tell you, the kids are going to love it," Elliott told FUSD's governing board Tuesday night.

MORE HEALTH/NUTRITION CLASSES

FUSD's governing board accepted the donation Tuesday night.

The money flows from tighter cost controls at FMC, allowing the hospital to reduce costs and time in the hospital for some government-insurance-funded patients without seeing a corresponding drop in payments.

Some of these plans pay a set amount for a given diagnosis, regardless of the actual cost of treatment.

Board member Dolores Biggerstaff said more health and nutrition classes are needed.

"I have to say, I have been somewhat startled about how ignorant kids are about what they're putting in their bodies," she said.

Bert McKinnon is a retired orthopedic surgeon who chairs the Northern Arizona Healthcare board of directors.

"We would like to expand this to the middle schools, to the charter schools, the parochial schools ... to every kid," he said.

The number of obese children in the country has tripled in the past 30 years, as per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and now more than one-third of U.S. kids and teens are obese.

McKinnon saw this in his practice, situations where "some teenagers who really, at an early stage in life, were destined for some real problems because of their weight," he said. "It just hits you in the heart."

Cyndy Cole can be reached at ccole@azdailysun.com or at 913-8607.

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