Area initiatives earn health awards




Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback presented the 2013 Kansas Health Champion Awards to several individuals and organizations, including two from the area, today during the second annual Kansas Obesity Summit.

Garden City's USD 457 Wellness Team received an organizational honorable mention, and Lisa Moritz of Tribune was named individual health champion.

The Garden City Schools Wellness Team created a school culture that makes health and wellness a priority. The key to the team's success is the designation of wellness champions at each district school or building who plan and implement wellness activities for employees and further the district's goal of empowering individuals to live longer, healthier lives and serve as role models for students. The team participates in several state and national health programs and has developed additional programs and initiatives, including an annual 5K and one-mile walk/run, training plans before each year's run, walking programs before school, fitness clubs, staff exercise classes, evening community health and wellness events, and monthly health challenges.

Polly Witt, USD 457 health service coordinator and wellness committee co-chair, said it's exciting for the committee and team to be recognized for all their hard work in promoting wellness for students, staff and the community. She noted that Mark Thompson, a program director at the Kansas Department of Education, nominated Garden City's wellness team.

"That's one thing that makes me feel really good is to have someone at the state level recognize Garden City is doing some good things," Witt said.

The wellness team started about seven years ago, Witt said, in response to height, weight and BMI measurements that indicated problems.

"We know it makes a difference if a child is healthy, physically fit and has a good nutrition balance they're going to learn better," she said. "From the perspective of staff, if staff is more healthy and physically fit, they're going to be better employees, and it also hopefully decreases insurance costs and workman's comp. So it's a win-win for everybody."

Witt said each building in the district has a wellness champion who serves as a representative on the committee, along with a broad spectrum of people representing parents, school staff, and Garden City Recreation Commission and the Garden City Family YMCA. Each building representative also has a wellness committee on the building level that includes more students, teachers, staff and parents.

Witt said there are many activities and programs offered throughout the year, such as family health nights and monthly challenges. For example, this month is "Walktober," an event that encourages walking more often during the month, keeping track of activity and then giving prizes to the most active at the end of the month.

As part of the month's activities, Oct. 9 is "Walk to School Day," which encourages kids to walk or ride their bikes to school.

The goal is to continue to promote healthy activities and habits.

"It's quality of life. If you're better physically fit, you're healthier, you're happier and you hopefully have a better quality of life, not only at this stage but later in life," Witt said. "The school board is so supportive of our wellness initiatives. I really appreciate and recognize our school board and administration for their support. That's really nice."

Moritz has served as the Unified Greeley County health nurse and the USD 200 Greeley County Schools nurse since 2004. In her dual role, she promotes healthy eating, physical activity and general health issues to students and school personnel.

In addition to her full-time job, Moritz spearheaded an annual community family 2-mile walk, 5K run and 10K run, "Full Moon in June Run," that has been held since 2009. In 2011, she created an eight-week program to help community members build the stamina to run a 5K. In 2012, she created a wellness program designed to help people improve their eating, monitor blood pressure and increase their activity level in the winter.

Others recognized included Scott Wadle of Wichita as individual honorable mention, and Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department as organizational health champion, and HaysMed as organizational honorable mention.

The Health Champion Award was developed by the Governor's Council on Fitness to recognize and promote exemplary contributions to fitness in Kansas. Eligible nominees include volunteers, schools, communities, employers, media organizations and policy makers who go above and beyond what is expected through normal job or organizational responsibilities related to modeling, encouraging and promoting fitness.

The Health Champions were recognized Monday afternoon during the Governor's Council on Fitness' second annual Kansas Obesity Summit. The summit engaged decision-makers in identifying and promoting best and most promising strategies to address rising rates and the health and economic impact of obesity in Kansas.

In a press release, Brownback congratulated those recognized for their efforts to improve the health of their communities through programs that increase physical activity.

"It was also an honor to participate with the Council on Fitness in our second annual summit on obesity. There is much work to be done in reducing the rate of obesity in Kansas, but I'm confident we can achieve our goals for a healthy Kansas through this continued collaboration," he said.

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