A Girard Medical Center program that helps fight childhood obesity was honored Tuesday by the Kansas Hospital Association.

A Girard Medical Center program that helps fight childhood obesity was honored Tuesday by the Kansas Hospital Association.

The Dine-O-Might program, which helps R.V. Haderlein fourth-grade students learn healthy eating and fitness habits, is this year's winner of the KHA's Community Connections Award for southeast Kansas. The GMC is one of six hospitals in Kansas to receive a CCA this year. Each winner was awarded $1,000 from the KHA.

Cindy Samuelson, KHA vice president, said more than 60 hospitals submitted programs to be judged for this year's competition. She said the KHA encourages medical centers to submit programs that go "above and beyond what hospitals normally are doing."

"This Dine-O-Might program in Girard is a great example of a program that is doing just that," she said.

The program, which began five years ago, teaches healthy eating and fitness habits to the students. It begins with an initial evaluation and students are provided with a set of specific exercises which are performed during their regular physical education period at school. The evaluations include blood sugar screenings, Body Mass Index calculation and cholesterol screenings. At the completion of the program, the students are screened again to evaluate the program's effectiveness. Throughout the program, the st
udents are required to keep an exercise diary.
Donnie Shull, GMC director of patient care services, said the program was created and implemented because "we heard so much about childhood obesity," and GMC staff wanted to take steps to reverse the alarming trend.

"Usually if a kid is obese at this age," Shull said, "nothing is going to change unless there is some awareness brought out and they do change some habits. If they continue on this same path, these kids are going to be obese as adults."

Shull said students in a rural community like Girard, while they may spend more time outdoors than children in urban areas, are not immune to the increasing levels of childhood obesity. In fact, he said nearly half of the students in the recent fourth-grade class at R.V. Haderlein are either overweight or obese.

"And that's probably about on track with fourth-grade students around the country," he said. "It's a major, major problem."

Since 1980, the percentage of children between the ages of 6 and 19 who are either overweight or obese has tripled to more than 16 percent, which equals more than 9 million people in that age group, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Also, according to the CDC, the childhood obesity rate has more than doubled over the past 30 years for preschool children aged 2-5 years and adolescents aged 12-19 years, and it has more than tripled for children aged 6-11 years.

Dan Duling, Haderlein principal, praised the Dine-O-Might program for its effects on not only the students' physical health, but also on their mindset regarding fitness and nutrition.

"I've heard from staff members who said there are some students with concerning cholesterol levels, and those students are making conscious choices when they go out to eat," he said. "Students are reporting that they are choosing to eat different or even eat less, and that is making a positive impact on those cholesterol levels."

Kenny Boyd, GMC CEO, said he hopes to use some of the money from the award to start to implement the program in surrounding schools.

"This is a program that we think contributes to the well-being of our community, starting at the school-age level," he said. "It's a program that assists children in learning how to make healthy lifestyle choices. I've been very impressed with the program since I arrived."

Duling said he would encourage other area schools to take a look at the program and strongly consider implementing it for the benefit of the students.

"It works, first of all," he said. "And it can be woven into the school day with little to no disruption because you can put it was part of the physical education program. It's pretty easily implemented and the effects are very powerful."

Tom Bell, president and CEO of the KHA, said the Dine-O-Might program would continue to have a positive effect on children long after they leave fourth grade.

"It is programs like this which exemplify the ideals of the Community Connections Award," Bell said, "and we are pleased to recognize the Dine-O-Might program at Girard Medical Center for their ongoing commitment to making their community a better place to live."