MAHONING COUNTY Program targets kids

The program promotes healthy lifestyles among pupils and school staff, too.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County officials are teaming up to deliver a simple but important message to area schools: Live right, and live longer.
Living right means getting daily exercise, making good nutritional choices and avoiding drugs, alcohol and tobacco products, said Matthew Stefanak, health commissioner.
That's the idea behind the Buckeye Best Healthy School Awards program, which was kicked off Thursday.
What it's about: The program asks schools to participate by promoting daily exercise and providing healthy foods for both pupils and staff, Stefanak said. They must also discourage use of tobacco products, drugs and alcohol, also by both pupils and staff.
There is no cost to apply and no monetary award for being selected to receive the award. The reward, Stefanak said, is a generation of healthier kids.
"Fitness is one area of our lifestyle where we seem to be devolving instead of evolving," Stefanak said. "I fear that if we don't change the trend, this generation of children will have a shorter life expectancy than ours" because of their sedentary lifestyle and vulnerability to illness.
Study's results: Stefanak said a study during the Healthy Valley 2000 project showed that 40 percent of adults in Mahoning County are overweight, and that the U.S. surgeon general has said there is an epidemic of obesity across the country.
"This award is an attempt to recognize schools that are trying to buck that trend," he said.
Commissioners also announced that they are expanding their annual summer food program to include an after-school snack program during the 2002-03 school year.
Commissioners set aside money from a 0.5-percent county sales tax to provide nutritious lunches for children of low-income families each summer. The program served more than 1,800 children at 89 community sites last summer.

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