Getting fit

Monica Mendoza
Kaiserslautern American

One teacher aims to make fitness new childhood trend

***image1***A list of fitness activities at Vogelweh Elementary School reads like a brochure from a 24-hour private health club: six-week fitness program and workouts; individualized fitness planning and alternative physical education programs.

In a day when today’s youth are caught in what the National Institute of Health calls a childhood obesity epidemic, one elementary physical education teacher is determined to set a new trend: childhood fitness.

“Kids are energetic and they want to do this,” said Zac Robinson, who teaches PE in grades 1 to 5 at Vogelweh. “It’s a matter of giving them the opportunity.”

Mr. Robinson has students dancing, playing “healthy food tag,” field hockey, volleyball and bowling. Parents might have noticed their children doing squats, crunches and pushups during the commercials of their favorite after-school television shows as part of Mr. Robinson’s Ultimate Fitness Challenge.

“I tell the kids, it doesn’t have to be some formal program − they can hike, skate, bike − and think of that as their fitness program,” Mr. Robinson said.

At least an apple a day

Every day, Mr. Robinson shows up to school with his lunch, a big bag of fruit and vegetables − two apples, two bananas, a plum, broccoli and cauliflower.

“Gosh, Mr. Robinson, you’re always talking about healthy foods,” the kids say to him. He can’t think of anything else. Last school year, he came across some worrisome statistics compiled by KMC school nurses. Nearly 40 percent of the students at his school were at risk of being overweight or were overweight, based on Body Mass Index. Time to get moving, he thought.
National statistics on childhood obesity are alarming, he said. According to the National Institute of Health, the number of overweight children in the U.S. has doubled in the past two decades. Mr. Robinson said children are not as active as they can be.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and Nielsen Media Research children watch an average of three hours of television a day, not including time spent playing video games.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture dietary guidelines say children over two years old should have at least 30 minutes of exercise a day. KMC elementary students have PE class once a week for 45 to 60 minutes, Mr. Robinson said.

“That’s why I’m doing this,” he said. “It is so important that they exercise on their own.”

This month, during the parent-teacher conferences, Mr. Robinson will unveil the VES School Fitness Program which, in addition to the Department of Defense Dependents Schools PE curriculum, includes three special programs. The After School Fitness Program for fourth and fifth-graders begins in January with two six-week sessions and includes daily lessons, 20-minute workouts and a game that supports the lesson.

“They will learn about exercise and nutrition,” Mr. Robinson said. “We’ll use fitness bars, medicine balls and they will learn their target heart rate.”

He will also start the Individualized Fitness Planning Program for children who want an individualized fitness program, with Mr. Robinson acting like a personal trainer, giving information and suggestions on how to incorporate a fitness lifestyle into daily activities. And, the Alternative PE Program, beginning this month, is for students who want to complete a variety of tasks, including working out at home and eating healthy foods.

“I’ll give them challenges they can complete at home,” Mr. Robinson said. “It will start out easy, like eat three pieces of fruit each day.”

The challenges will increase in difficulty for eight levels. Fitness challenges will begin in December, just in time for the holiday break, Mr. Robinson said.

“I want to teach them how to exercise appropriately, even if they are in the second grade,” Mr. Robinson said.

What is BMI?
Being overweight means that your child has a body mass index that is above the 95th percentile for his or her age. A body mass index that is above the 85th percentile for his or her age puts your child at risk of becoming overweight.
Find out how to measure your child’s BMI at

What parents should know:
• Obese children have shown an increase in the incidence of type 2 diabetes, also known as adult-onset diabetes.
• Many obese children have high cholesterol and blood pressure levels, which are risk factors for heart disease.
• One of the most severe problems for obese children is sleep apnea (interrupted breathing while sleeping). In some cases, this can lead to memory problems and problems with learning.
• Overweight adolescents have a 70 percent chance of becoming overweight or obese adults.
Source: National Institute of Health

For more information on minimum recommended daily exercise for toddlers, preschoolers and school-age children, visit

Learn more about the U.S. Department of Agriculture MyPyramid, dietary guidelines for children ages 6 to 11 at