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Students Striding Toward Physical Fitness in Ky. Elementary Schools

All 500+ 4th and 5th graders in a Kentucky school district will be receiving pedometers as part of a new fitness initiative to motivate them to stay active and healthy.

The Lexington Herald-Leader reports that the initiative, which lifted off Feb. 14, is a collaboration between the Clay County schools, Kosair Children's Hospital in Louisville, and Manchester Memorial Hospital. Kosair is providing the district with the pedometers, which will cost approximately $15,000.

Students will be challenged to walk as many steps per day as possible, and the program will tie in nutrition education. The information from the pedometers can be downloaded onto computers, so school administrators can trace the students' progress.

Students will earn prizes for winning "challenges" (for example, a geography-based challenge will ask students to walk enough steps to get to Houston). Granted, instead of rewarding them with chocolate bars or other unhealthy sweets, they'll win footballs, frisbees, and other activity-based prizes.

For Clay County, a program such as this couldn't have come soon enough. Last July, an article in the Washington Post highlighted Clay County as the unhealthiest county in Kentucky, with 41 percent of its population either in fair or poor health. Administrators in the school system hope that the students will take their healthy habits home with them to motivate their parents to become more active.

Clay County will be the first rural county in the state to adopt the pedometer fitness program. Kosair began a similar program with 4th graders in six Jefferson County, Ky., elementary schools last year, and the hospital has continued to track the Louisville students' weight and body mass indexes to evaluate the effectiveness of the program.

Humana Inc. also piloted a pedometers-in-schools program with 100 middle school students in Louisville back in 2008. According to a press release from Humana, they walked a collective 6,364 miles over the course of four weeks, and 62 percent of the students reported that they exercised more than usual during the challenge.

It appears that the pedometer craze is headed upstream on the Ohio River, as Indiana's Greater Clark County district also recently launched a 14-week pedometer program for roughly 5,000 students, according to the Evening News and Tribune. In one of the district's schools, Parkwood Elementary, physical education instructor Lori Gavin challenged her students to take between 8,000 and 10,000 steps per day.

Now, if you're like me, and you sit in your office chair far too much to walk 10,000 steps a day, you should know that Gavin's expectations of her students aren't necessarily ludicrous. In fact, Gavin's got the first lady on her side.

The President's Council on Physical Fitness, alongside Michelle Obama's "Let's Move!" Campaign, launched the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award—a six-week physical-activity challenge—in September. Lo and behold, the challenge laid out goals for pedometer steps: for adults, 8,500+ steps/day; for female kids/teens, 11,000+ steps/day; and for male kids/teens, 13,000+ steps per day.

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