Wellness is a term that has gained in popularity in recent years. Wellness is used as a name for a variety of products and programs, and as a result the term is sometimes misused. The President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition Digest defines wellness as “a multidimensional state of being describing the existence of positive health in an individual as exemplified by quality of life and a sense of well-being.” Adopting healthy lifestyles, including being regularly active and eating well, are “processes” that lead to the “products” of health and wellness.

Corporate America has adopted “wellness” programming in pursuit of a variety of goals including reduced health care costs, decreased absenteeism, improved job satisfaction, and improved health and wellness. Two recent reports from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) encourage wellness programming in schools. The first report (2010), that provides a national framework for reducing obesity in the U. S., notes that “children spend up to half their waking hours in school. In an increasingly sedentary world, schools therefore provide the best opportunity for a population-based approach for increasing physical activity among the nation’s youth.” The second IOM report, that provides evidence for physical education programs in schools, recommends “district and school administrators, teachers, and parents advocate for and create a whole-of-school approach to physical activity that fosters and provides access in the school environment to at least 60 minutes per day of vigorous or moderate-intensity physical activity more than half (50 percent) of which should be accomplished during regular school hours.”

A number of schools in Arizona, including two from Ahwatukee (Kyrene de la Colina Elementary School and Horizon Community Learning Center), have been involved in pilot projects using “whole school wellness programs.” In fact, these schools were recently featured in a national journal (Journal of Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance — JOPERD). Virtually all schools in Pima County have also adopted this approach and are also featured in the article.

“Wellness Weeks” are designated several times each year, and during these weeks the entire school focuses on promoting fitness, health, and wellness. Healthy lifestyles are promoted with a focus on physical activity and nutrition. Parents, administrators, and teachers conduct programs including exercise breaks in classrooms, special physical education activities, healthy foods in the cafeteria, school signs promoting healthy lifestyles, promotion of active play during recess, special art and music activities, and school newsletters.

Research conducted in the schools of Pima County shows that the “whole school approach” is most effective when schools have a “wellness committee” to guide programming and when a school wellness coordinator is appointed.

Wellness committees provide an opportunity for parent involvement and take some of the burden off school personnel. Successful pilot programs in Pima County have led to funding by the Pima County Health Department.

Research indicates that whole school wellness programming can help schools meet the goal of providing at least half of the 60 minutes of daily activity recommended for school age youth. In addition, this approach promotes healthy eating, another healthy lifestyle important to lifelong fitness, health, and wellness.

• Ahwatukee Foothills resident Dr. Charles “Chuck” Corbin is professor emeritus at Arizona State University. He is the author of more than 90 books on fitness and exercise, was the first chair of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition Science Board, and served on the Institute of Medicine Committee on Fitness Measures and Health Outcomes in Youth. He was a charter member of the advisory board for FITNESSGRAM.

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