Sonoma County educators struggle to keep students healthy

  • Physical Education teacher Laurel Green, right, leads a class in stretching while fifth-graders Aidan Tilden and John Wells follow along at Brooks Elementary School in Windsor, on Tuesday, November 27, 2012. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

Last week, Santa Rosa City Schools physical education teacher Tori Meredith was offered a morning treat by one of her students. It was a gesture both sweet and bewildering, she said.

"A first grader ... offered me a marshmallow. She had a whole bag of those jumbo marshmallows in the bag and she was eating them," Meredith said. "And she was obese."

Meredith, a vocal proponent of nutrition and exercise for young people, asked the young girl to hand over the bag.

The marshmallow example is extreme, she acknowledged. In most cases, families either aren't educated about healthful food choices, or their decisions are driven by economics.

"You can talk about junk food until you are blue in the face, but when McDonald's can make a meal for a family for $10 ..." she said. "You have families and that's all they can afford."

Meredith and retired family physician Joe Clendenin have been key players in establishing iDo26.2, a fledgling exercise program meant to inspire students to run at least 26.2 miles — the distance of a marathon — in increments over the course of the spring.

Santa Rosa City Schools adopted the program in October and backers are looking for financial support to get more than 10,000 students running next spring.

"The idea is that exercise clearly keeps you healthy, it helps you with your weight. It's not the only thing, to keep your weight down but it's a very important part of it," Clendenin said.

Efforts to get students and families to eat a more healthful diet are up against a mammoth fast food industry.

Taco Bell sold 100 million Doritos Locos Tacos in 10 weeks when the $1.29 item was launched in March.

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