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Mass In Motion

To:Superintendents of Schools, Charter School Leaders and Other Interested Parties
From:Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education
John Auerbach, Commissioner of the Department of Public Health
Date:January 22, 2009

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Almost every new year begins with resolutions by millions of people to eat healthier and exercise more. Yet it would seem that most such commitments end up falling short since we have seen an unprecedented increase in the percentage of overweight children and adults in our state and around the country. At present more than half of the adult population is overweight as are at least 15% of high school students - and the trend toward higher weight is increasing! The consequences of this "epidemic" are serious. Type 2 diabetes is almost twice as prevalent in Massachusetts as it was just a decade ago. And overweight and obesity are contributing to numerous other chronic conditions including heart disease, some cancers and arthritis. The causes are clear. Not enough exercise. Too much time in front of the television and computer screens. Not enough fruits and vegetables. Too much unhealthy junk food. School nurses around the state report they are seeing children with Type 2 diabetes and other obesity-related conditions in record numbers. Clearly something needs to be done.

For these reasons, we are pleased to announce a new and exciting multi-faceted statewide campaign led by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) to promote wellness and combat obesity called Mass In Motion. We encourage you to support this important effort which will have a number of components that focus specifically on schools and school-aged children. Among the activities that will be launched in January 2009 are:

  • A statewide wellness public information campaign involving Governor Deval Patrick and other "champions";
  • An interactive website directed to parents and caregivers, worksites, and communities (including schools) that complements the information campaign (see www.mass.gov/massinmotion ) ;
  • Proposed regulations that require Body Mass Index (BMI) screening in schools and reporting to parents to identify the weight status of children;
  • Proposed menu labeling regulations that require fast food restaurants to post information on the nutritional content of the foods they offer;
  • An executive order that will require state agencies purchasing large quantities of food to follow specific nutritional standards;
  • The expansion of a successful DPH worksite wellness program to new worksites; and
  • The release of a RFR for municipalities that will support active living and healthy eating.

There are numerous ways to support this effort within your school district, including:

*Support the efforts to collect Body Mass Indexes (BMI) for school children and share the information with parents (along with low-literacy and multi-lingual explanatory information and useful links to resources). The state's Public Health Council will likely pass a regulation in the coming months that requires that schools measure BMIs for first, fourth, seventh and tenth graders. The BMI can be easily calculated using existing data - namely, height and weight - that the schools already have. This regulation was developed with input from school nurses. It decreases some of the current mandated screening activities so as not to overload the nurses (and Essential School Nurses contracts will be adapted to include this as a core contractual activity). The experience from other states that have similar regulations is that school superintendents are key in how successful this process is.

*Work with your mayor or other local elected officials to draw attention to the importance of school meals and physical activity programs - A growing number of mayors and local elected officials are making fitness a priority by mobilizing local departments and managers to adapt their current practices to encourage healthier eating habits and exercise. We believe that school leaders should be in the forefront of such initiatives. To further promote this movement DPH is joining with 5 foundations and Blue Cross/Blue Shield to create a "Mass in Motion City and Town Planning and Implementation" grant program to help local elected officials with activities of this kind.

*Increase the attention paid to the implementation of school wellness plans: The federally-mandated wellness plans that schools have developed provide insight into what can be done to help combat obesity. Many school districts have already taken impressive steps to make school meals more nutritious and improve the foods sold in vending machines on school grounds. Continued attention to the successful implementation of wellness policies that encourage healthy eating and daily physical activity, including quality physical education programs, will enhance school environments and encourage optimal health and learning among Massachusetts youth.

Your support for efforts to promote wellness among the school children in your district is not only important to improve their health. There is a growing body of evidence that kids with healthy diets and sufficient physical activity do better academically. Therefore, please join us in endorsing Mass In Motion and becoming active in supporting the expansion of efforts to create conditions that optimize our children's health.

Last Updated: January 23, 2009

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