By Darren Brown, News9.com INsite team
School-age children have changed over the last few decades. They dress differently, listen to different music, and numerous studies suggest that they're mostly overweight. It's a concern that's not taken lightly in Lawton, Oklahoma.
Dr. Ben Cooper is an administrative physician at Comanche County Memorial Hospital in Lawton. He sees childhood obesity as a community-wide issue.
"That's a generational problem, and when you talk about childhood obesity, at the same time what you're really talking about is childhood inactivity," he said. "Every group we talk to, every parent realizes that their children are spending more time behind computers, playing video games--they're not getting outside, they're not being active," Cooper said.
The Lawton community shares Cooper's concerns. Just last year, Lawton became the first city in the state to join the national Safe Routes to School program. Parents drop their kids off at a designated location, and students and teachers walk to school together. There are "safe houses" along the way, and every adult involved in the walk gets a background check.
National Center for Safe Routes to School program offers resources to schools wanting to join. Funding actually comes from the Federal Highway Administration, but many schools also get states and local communities involved.
Janette New, a health educator for the Comanche County Health Department, said the grant that Lawton received went toward getting the program off the ground. "What it allowed us to do, was purchase signs for the walking school bus dropoff, safe house signs, complete background checks for our safe houses, which we felt was very important, and all of our volunteers," she said.
The program is a hit with both students and teachers. The kids get prizes for participating, and the teachers say that they get to know their students better because they have more time with them.
And there's one more added benefit.
"As kids get fitter, their grades get better, and I think part of that is they get rid of some of this nervous energy and they're ready to focus on their studies," Cooper said.