MOUNT VERNON — When developing a healthy lifestyle, starting young is key to creating life-long habits. Thanks to the Crunch Out program, sponsored by the United Way of Knox County, local fourth-graders are being educated on all of the ways to begin their healthy journey.
The six-week Crunch Out wellness program is implemented in physical education classes county-wide, Program Director Elizabeth Doolittle explained. The county began the program Sept. 24.
All of the students are given an exercise ball, which helps them learn strength, flexibility and cardio exercises, Doolittle explained. The balls are utilized by students, both in physical education class and at home, Doolittle said.
The fourth-graders also keep daily journals and learn important nutrition information, specifically the principle of 5-2-1-0, Doolittle explained. The 5-2-1-0 initiative instills in the students the health benefits of eating five servings of fruit and vegetables a day, having two or less hours of screen time, enjoying one hour of physical activity and having zero servings of sugary drinks like soda.
The students also complete an essay at the end of the program to demonstrate their learning, how well they incorporated 5-2-1-0 into their daily lives and the impact this program has had on their ideas of healthy living, Doolittle said. The essays are entered into a county-wide contest, she explained, where there will be one all-county winner, as well as essay contest winners from each classroom and each school.
The United Way partners with The Knox County Health Department, Knox Community Hospital and the YMCA to provide the Crunch Out program to all of the elementary schools in Knox County.
At the beginning of the program, letters are sent home with students informing their family members about the program, in particular the 5-2-1-0 aspect, to encourage a family commitment to over-all health.
“The program really encourages family conversations about healthy habits,” Doolittle said. “Children, they’re just not good decision makers, If they have soda and junk food at home, instead of water or milk and fruits and vegetables, they’re not going to make that decision. It’s really a family effort. It’s not only important for the fourth-graders, but everyone can benefit from the 5-2-1-0 lifestyle. It’s never too late to benefit from a healthy lifestyle.”
The United Way monitors the progress of Crunch Out participants after they finish the program, Doolittle said, with help from Kenyon College. For two years, Kenyon has been anonymously interviewing fourth-graders in the Spring, after they complete the program, and fifth-graders to monitor their retention of the program and their implementation of healthy habits.
“There are a lot of testimonials on the United Way website from students saying how this program has affected them,” Doolittle said. “A lot of them are quotes from their essays. There’s one that says ‘exercising makes me feel powerful and strong,’ and it’s so meaningful to see these students empowered by it.”
The program fosters creativity and family bonds, Doolittle explained, because it allows the students and their family members to take the information and run with it, to come up with their own exercises, and to implement the 5-2-1-0 lifestyle in their own way.
“With Crunch Out, I have had lots of visits to the classroom, and seeing how the P.E. teachers teach the materials and the lifestyle change, it’s really well presented,” she said. “They also teach goal setting, and they encourage the kids to have flexibility with it. It’s a lifestyle change, and it’s really well presented by our P.E. teachers.”
The Crunch Out program is wrapping up soon, with the students currently working on post-tests from the program, which measure how many exercises they can do in 30 seconds and their knowledge of the definitions of 5-2-1-0, Doolittle said. The students will be completing their essays and the winners will be picked before the awards ceremony in January.
For more information about the Crunch Out program, visit www.uwwayknox.org or call 740-397-5721.