Elementary school holds weight contest

LAKE FOREST, Calif. The mantra of many health professionals to "eat less, move more" is the theme of the three-week contest held by Rancho Canada Elementary School in Lake Forest.

Teams of five to ten will walk, play and step-up their exercise program, while learning better eating habits. Not only are the kids participating in the contest, but the school faculty and the principal are also on board.

"We're trying to show a short segment, not to draw it out, but we can show that we can make an impact in just three weeks here at the school site," said Rancho Canada principal Thomas Potwara.

"The PTA cares about children across the board and healthy families," said PTA member Terri Graham. "It was actually their initiative that they started five years ago about going into the schools and educating families on healthy lifestyles."

The contest is called "The Biggest Winner," as the team that loses the most weight and shows the greatest improvement in blood pressure will win a $500 grant from the National Parent Teachers Association. There will also be smaller monetary prizes for making healthy changes.

"They're also having a component where they bring in an unhealthy meal, or perhaps something they have been eating in the past, and show how they can make it more healthy," said Potwara.

Everyone will gain health benefits from the contest, yet Graham, who is also an exercise physiologist, is especially concerned for today's children.

"We are seeing Type 2 diabetes in children as young as 2 years of age and that was something that didn't occur until you were well into your 40s," said Graham. "So it is frightening when we see lifestyle diseases occurring in children."

Each team will design their own game plan, with a local dietitian offering nutritional help.

"Parents are the role models," said dietitian Marissa Kent. "We have to show them what is healthy eating and even if you don't like it to introduce it to your children."

On Friday night, the teams at Ranch Canada will weigh in, take blood pressure measurements and get handouts from an exercise physiologist, dietitian, and sport psychologist to arm them with the ammunition they need to win the weight war.

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