Nutrition and wellness programs used to be nice extras for schools, said Russell Cliche, coordinator of the Coordinated School Health Program of the Hamilton County Schools.
Now, with two-thirds of Americans reporting they don't get the amount of movement they need, he said, such programs are crucial.
"We've got the sickest population we've ever had," said Cliche. "And they're being raised by the second-sickest [generation] we've ever had."
Under a three-year collaboration between BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Health Foundation and the state Office of Coordinated School Health, one Hamilton County school and several others in adjoining counties are doing something about that by adopting the OrganWise Guys program.
The obesity prevention program, which uses a curriculum with organ-shaped characters such as Hardy Heart, Madame Muscle and Sir Rebrum, teaches nutrition and healthy living concepts to elementary-school students.
Cliche said the program is clever.
It teaches what "makes this little person run well or not run well," he said. "It goes more in depth of how the body works but in a childfriendly way that allows students to attach to the organ characters and see how they are affected by their amount of movement."
Kathy Bingham, manager of the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Health Foundation, said the implementation of the existing OrganWise Guys curriculum across the state grew out of a desire to expand the foundation's 2011 Shape the State grant program with middle schools.
A presentation by the group and the evaluation process it provides convinced foundation officials it was the right way to go for elementary-school students.
"It was fun, interactive and would catch the eye of the children," she said.
The $755,000 grant program started this year with 80 schools across the state and in three years is slated to be in 150 schools.
Katrina Gravitte, principal of Daisy Elementary School, said the school had used "bits and pieces" of the OrganWise Guys program for several years. When she received an email about whether the school would like to be on board for the full program, she and physical education teacher Diane Stacy jumped on the opportunity.
"The kids loved it," she said. "It was just very engaging with the kids -- the clever, catchy names and songs for the kids to be able to understand about nutrition and health."
Stacy said the program is "presented in a way children can understand" through videos, books, visuals and the stuffed characters with the cute names.
"If a doctor were to explain [the function of organs,] it would be way over their head," she said. "This is right on their level."
Sherry Shroyer, principal of Taylor Elementary School in Cleveland, Tenn., said her students will begin the program Oct. 15.
"We're trying to focus on the whole child," she said. "We're interested in their social, environmental, emotional, physical and spiritual well-being. The OrganWise program will help show students how to take care of not only the outside but the inside of their body. It will help them understand how important organs are to a child's body. We're excited about the kickoff."
Park View Elementary, also in Cleveland, will implement OrganWise Guys later this year, a school spokeswoman said.
Cliche said the way in which the program is implemented in the various schools is up to school officials. The general idea, he said, is to regain what's been lost in United States families over the last 30 years with the rise of obesity and related diseases, the decrease in the consumption of water, the drop-off of eating fruits and vegetables, and the increasing lack of sleep.
"We're teaching the value of health," he said. "We want to create with the youngest kids possible the value of health. We want to make it education-friendly and stay on task. We want to get this latest group of kids to value their health."
Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...