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District Mounts Health Effort for All Students, Staff

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The Beverly Hills (Calif.) Unified School District has embarked on an ambitious health-education and fitness program that will encompass students throughout the district, their parents, and all school employees for at least the next two years.

The program, which was announced earlier this month, will attempt to increase student and community awareness of the need to begin and maintain a healthy lifestyle through nutrition, exercise, and personal habits.

District officials say the strategy they are adopting in the "Neil Konheim Health Promotion" project could become a model for other school districts and communities throughout the country. The project is named after the late son of a project benefactor, George Konheim, a Beverly Hills real-estate businessman.

Most Mandates Limited

According to a survey conducted by the Education Commission of the States, 42 states mandate health-education instruction as part of the public-school curriculum. But most only specify instruction on alcohol and drug abuse and ignore other health issues such as chronic diseases, according to Gayle Diem, na-tional coordinator for the American Health Foundation's "Know Your Body" program.

Individual schools in a number of cities have begun health-education programs to teach students and employees how to reduce their risk of becoming ill with cardiovascular diseases and cancer, and their chances of having a stroke, the three leading causes of death. But the Beverly Hills program is the most comprehensive and far-reaching effort undertaken by a school district, its officials say.

Districtwide Effort

The Beverly Hills program is being developed by district officials with assistance from the School of Public Health at the University of California at Los Angeles and the American Health Foundation, a nonprofit health-research organization based in New York. It is scheduled to begin in classrooms throughout the district in the fall.

Lolly Horn, the district's project coordinator, said that each of the district's 5,149 students will be screened for physical fitness and health knowledge at both the beginning and the end of the school year to measure any improvement. The information will be charted on each student's "health passport."

During a recent health fair in the district, teachers and other employees participated in compiling their own health profiles, according to Ms. Horn.

"The intent is to enlist the participation of the students themselves, their leaders, the faculty of the entire school district, the parents through their organization, and every element in the community," said Lester Breslow, dean of ucla's School of Public Health, and chairman of the steering committee for the district's project.

Health Benefits Stressed

"I think it will differ from most school health programs in that it's a comprehensive effort, including attention to the curriculum in health in grades kindergarten through 12 at the district's four elementary schools and one high school," Mr. Breslow explained. The program also will stress the health benefits of nutrition and physical activity outside of the classroom.

"We think it's unfortunate that some youngsters learn about nutrition in the classroom but see something quite different in the cafeteria," Mr. Breslow said. The Beverly Hills project will also focus on improving the meals served in school cafeterias.

"The reason for doing this, we think, is that the habits young peo-ple acquire during the ages while in school have a profound impact on their lives later," Mr. Breslow explained, citing the use of alcohol and cigarettes as examples of bad habits that have unhealthy consequences.

Over the next several months, according to Ms. Horn, those involved in the district's health project will develop the curriculum, based on a review of existing health-related materials and with advice from teachers and members of an advisory council that so far has not been named.

Beverly Hills school officials said they will adapt elements of the Know Your Body program to their project. The Know Your Body program was begun in 1975 by Ernst Wynder, the founder of the American Health Foundation, with a grant from the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Wynder is a research endocrinologist whose work helped to identify the relationship between lung cancer and cigarette smoking.

In the Know Your Body program, according to Ms. Diem, screening of students plays an important part in the early identification of health risks and in motivating individuals to correct unhealthy habits.

Mr. Breslow said, however, that the Beverly Hills project will not be limited to the techniques of that program.

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