Published Online: February 15, 2005
Published in Print: February 16, 2005, as Biting Back

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Biting Back

Fla. Fitness Campaign Uses Student Leaders

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Students are teaching one another in a grassroots campaign in Florida called “Kidz Bite Back”—an effort to combat the growing numbers of overweight children.

The campaign is part of the $1.4 million Schools of Wellness Initiative, a program funded by health-care agencies in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Elementary students from schools in both counties attended a “summit” this month to learn about the drawbacks of junk food and the value of exercise.

Dewey Caruthers, the president of Dewey & Associates, the Tampa-based firm that organized the campaign with student input, said it is based on the idea of empowering children.

Fifteen student leaders chosen by their teachers and principals worked with the marketing firm to plan the day’s activities and decide how to spread the message of healthy eating to their peers.

About 70 4th and 5th graders learned about the dangers of eating large amounts of junk food, how to eat such in moderation, and the benefits of exercise during the one-day gathering at Tree Tops Park in Davie, Fla., on Feb. 5.

The centerpiece of the day was an hourlong presentation called “The Big Fat Industries 101.” It explained to children how companies that make fast food, soft drinks, and snack foods use popular cartoon characters to sell their products.

Students will write letters next month to the “big fat industries” asking how much they would need to exercise to burn off the calories in the companies’ products.

Amy Whitlock, the Schools of Wellness project director, noted its “regional approach” to childhood obesity. By the 2006-07 school year, 50 schools in Broward and Palm Beach counties will participate, she said. “The children are basically the seeds of this initiative,” she said. “They’re going to be leaders in their schools to teach the other students.”

About 9 million school-age young people nationwide, or 16 percent of those between the ages of 6 and 19, are overweight, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

PHOTO: Rashad Christie, 10, of North Lauderdale, Fla., works out with a Hula-Hoop at the fitness summit.
—A. Enrique Valentin/ South-Florida Sun-Sentinel

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