Study helps Chetek-Weyerhaeuser School Dist.'s obesity rate decline

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CHETEK, Wis. (WEAU) -- Three years ago, nearly half the students in the Chetek-Weyerhaeuser School District were either overweight or obese. Thanks to $1 million grant and the Tri-County Medical Society, that number has dropped significantly over the years.

The PEP grant was aimed at improving the students' health through education, nutrition and fitness.

In 2009, around 43 percent of the students were overweight or obese. By 2013, after BMI's were measured again, Dr. Fred Bannister, MD who led the study, said the number dropped to 30 percent.

"It became very obvious there was a tremendous obesity epidemic as evidenced by many of the kids in our community walking down the street with bottles of soda," said Bannister. It was in 2008 the Tri-County Medical Society physicians figured something out. "So we decided what to do and we obviously knew exercise and nutrition was a big part of this."

Bannister said it's important to note Weyerhaeuser wasn't part of the Chetek School District when the study began in 2009. But the final results in 2013 includes the students of the Chetek-Weyerhaeuser School District.

Dietitian Sarah Teele, CN who was hired by Tri-County Medical Society said there major changes right off the bat, like getting rid of chocolate milk.

"We gave it to them on Friday as kind of an end of the week treat," said Teele.

"I thought we were all going to get assassinated by the kids," joked Bannister. "However, we found the grade schools, we could do anything with their nutrition with absolutely no comment by them or interest."

The older students had a problem. They ended up bringing their own chocolate syrup, said Teele. But the cafeteria food also changed.

"Obviously the healthier food options, calorie ranges and restrictions on saturated fat and sodium, so you're seeing all that in our school breakfast and lunch program here," said school nutrition director Jessica Deringer, MS, RDN, CD.

Deringer said more fruits and vegetables are offered every day and students have a lot more to choose from.

"We're hoping the healthier choices they're making at school, they'll be making at home, outside of school and beyond their years here," she said.

Teele said the group went to the Institute of Medicine's recommendations incrementally per year.

"Slowly going down from 1200 mg per meal at lunch time down to a more reasonable amount, around 440 mg per meal at lunch time with sodium," said Teele. She said it took some coaching for the kitchen staff to know how to compensate with different types of seasonings and spices.

"I think they're a little bit closer to where they want to be now," said Teele.

The elementary school also got a new climbing wall, thanks to the grant. The middle school ended up revamping their weight and exercise rooms.

"We did put some TV monitors in the cafeteria as well as near the liens for getting food so people could draw their eyes to the monitor during the lunch hours. There were Powerpoint presentations related to healthy diet and exercise. The middle school and high school provided those lessons," said Teele.

Students and parents were also encourage to invite doctors with the Tri-County Medical Society into their homes.

"The people who requested that were obese or overweight, it really surprised us in that many times the people didn't feel threatened by obesity," said Bannister.

Three years later, the overweight or obesity rate dropped to 13 percent which Teele said is a significantly successful number.

"We're looking for that normal range to increase as the years go on," she said."

"We were all very surprised and very excited about the fact that we were able to drop the body mass index every year," said Bannister. "Obesity levels, overweight levels dropped about the same. It was pretty exciting."

The study will be discussed at an upcoming school board meeting where they'll look at the data and talk about what is the next step.

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