Schools Use Nintendo Wii, Games to Fight Obesity

In the battle against childhood obesity, it's all fun and games, reports At least it is in Alabama, where schools are trying out a new program called Wee Can Fight Obesity, which uses the Wii Fitness Plus bundled with EA Games in its physical education classes. The program is a one-year experiment – currently in its second year – sponsored by the Alabama Department of Education, Alabama State University, the Alabama Sports Festival and the Governor's Commission on Physical Fitness.

The gaming system is set up for use of third-graders three times a week, but, as Judith Ross found out when the program ran at her school last year, keeping it just to the third grade proved to be a challenge. Ross, who's a principal of Wylam Elementary School in Birmingham, said that once the program was launched, other grades at the school wanted in on the fun as well:

"Once the other children found out about it, they wanted to be involved, too," Ross said. "So we let them, and began using it as a behavior modification tool because kids knew if they didn't behave well, then on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, they couldn't participate."

September is Childhood Obesity Awareness Month and many schools are using this time to evaluate different approaches to delivering fitness to kids. What makes Alabama's program original is that it tries to turn a technology that is thought to be a contributor to the obesity epidemic – video games – into a tool to combat it. However, that is not the only approach used by schools to move beyond the dreary P.E. class. The Ledger-Courier reports that in Georgia, Fort Middle School has just concluded the first year of its Fighting Obesity Through Ballet program where eighth-grade ballet students partner up with elementary school kids to help them learn not just about dance but also about nutrition and general wellbeing.

The program, which was created and is run by the ballet and drama teacher Tamela Thompson, got a particular mention from its sponsor, UnitedHealthcare, for also incorporating fine arts which is often missing or underrepresented in school curricula.

"The arts, we really don't have much funding for it, we really don't have much time for it," said Thompson. "Academia does come first, but it's always good to know if you can implement something that is going to make a difference in these children's lives and help with what's big right now — we're really fighting obesity right now and it's huge with our youth — and so we have to start from the school and try to fix it."

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