Tuesday, November 10, 2009
7232: Teachers Learn Healthy Lessons.
From The Los Angeles Times…
Compton schools’ weighty competition
Staff members team up to lose pounds and gain cash prizes. The district hopes their successes will inspire students to make better food choices too.
By Gerrick Kennedy
Diahanne McKinley stepped off the scale and shook her head in disbelief. She tried again, this time removing a head wrap—every ounce counts, she said. But again, the number was not good. So she shifted her weight from side to side and stepped on the scale one more time, observing the digital numbers aglow below her.
“I’m not happy,” said the 53-year-old, fanning her eyes to stop the tears. “I’m working out four to five times a day—morning, noon and night. I only lost one pound.”
The Compton woman is one of more than 300 staff members from the Compton Unified School District competing to lose weight. Nearly $9,000 in cash prizes—provided by the district’s insurance broker—is at stake.
McKinley, a systems analyst for the district, had hoped to continue the momentum of the previous week, when she shed 12 pounds. She cut fried foods and starches out of her diet, replacing them with fruits, vegetables and steamed chicken.
The competition is a local version of the 50 Million Pound Challenge, a nationwide initiative started by Dr. Ian Smith, known for his appearances on “Celebrity Fit Club,” and reminiscent of NBC’s hit show “The Biggest Loser.” Anyone can join at no cost through the website www.50millionpoundchallenge.com and track weight loss, download a 30-day meal plan, record exercise and create teams.
Since early October, Compton Unified’s 61 five-member teams—sporting names like Simply Delicious, Fat No Mo and Diet Divas—have been attending weekly weigh-ins where they are given recipe cards and diet tips from the district’s nutritionist. But, unlike the television show, participants do not have the luxury of trainers to guide their exercise. Instead, most of them walk and do cardio at nearby El Camino College Compton Center.
McKinley weighed more than 300 pounds at her heaviest. She hopes her weight loss will help relieve chronic back pain. Also, she has felt the financial sting of being overweight: Her health insurer recently raised her rates by more than $40 a month.
Tami Foy, director of the Compton Education Foundation, started the program to help employees like McKinley. She said obesity has long plagued the area because lower-income neighborhoods tend to be surrounded by fast-food eateries that offer processed, high-fat foods. She hopes Compton students notice the progress being made by the school staff and work with their parents to make better diet choices.
“Every week we’re hearing about someone dying of a heart attack,” Foy said. “Our kids will not outlive us if we don’t do something about this.”
This isn’t the first time Foy has tried to encourage district employees to trim some pounds. Foy said that about a year ago she wanted employees to enroll in Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig, but participation was poor because people could not afford the meetings or pre-packaged foods. So Foy looked for a free alternative.
Tracie Thomas, director of student nutrition services for the district, said television shows such as “The Biggest Loser” and “Celebrity Fit Club” are popular because they emphasize teamwork.
“We spend more time in our workplace around these people than we do in our own homes. I think everyone working together to get healthy works best,” Thomas said.
As part of the program, Thomas has taken parents on tours of local grocery stores to learn to make healthier choices. Her department also sponsors weekly cooking classes to expose families to salad bars and locally grown fruits and vegetables.
The competition ends with a final weigh-in Dec. 2. The team that has lost the most will win $4,000. There are additional cash prizes for second- and third-place teams, and the individual who loses the most will win $1,000. Dickerson Employee Benefits, insurance broker for the school district, donated $10,000 for prize money and food, Foy said.
Alex Muldrow, an operations manager for the district, said his biggest challenge was changing his “if it looks good, I’d eat it” mentality. He said Compton’s limited choices in dining fueled his bad eating habits. Instead of frying food, he now bakes. He also eats more fish, chicken and raw vegetables. Muldrow’s goal is to get down to 230 pounds from 277. McKinley hasn’t set a goal, but becoming a grandmother gave her added incentive to get her weight in check.
“I know I’m 100 pounds overweight. I just started eating the wrong things,” she said. “I don’t mind paying that little extra for insurance. I just want to live.”