ORTING, Wash. - Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This phenomenon increases the risk for cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, sleep apnea, social and psychological problems.
Eight soldiers assigned to the 47th Combat Support Hospital, 62nd Medical Brigade, were invited to help combat childhood obesity by administering a fall Presidential Fitness Test to more than 500 students at Ptarmigan Ridge Intermediate School, Orting, Wash., Oct. 1-3.
According to their website, the President’s Challenge started in 1966 to assist, inform and inspire people to achieve an active, healthy lifestyle through awards and recognition programs and since has been adopted by schools nationwide.
Using the PFT and the standard benchmarks, educators measure student’s muscular strength, endurance, cardio-respiratory endurance, speed, agility and flexibility. The standards for the three awards students can earn are based on the 1985 National School Population Fitness Survey. They were validated in 1998 through comparison with a large nationwide sample collected in 1994.
Students who scored at or above the 85th percentile on all five activities will earn the Presidential Physical Fitness award. Those who scored above the 50th percentile in all five activities will earn the National Physical Fitness award and students who participated in all five activities but one or more of their scores fell below the 50th percentile will earn the Participant Physical Fitness award.
Jennifer Benjamin, the health and fitness teacher, provides three opportunities each school year for her students to take part in the challenge by incorporating the PFT in her curriculum. She was excited to have the 62nd Med. Bde. soldiers come to help for the test.
“I find that having soldiers test the student’s skills in curl-ups, shuttle run, 1-mile endurance run or walk, pull-ups and the sit reach event helps me assess, develop and motivate my students to adopt and maintain an active lifestyle.”
Pfc. Toreon Rafter, combat medic, 47th CSH, jumped rope, bounced on exercise balls, played swat ball and was invigorated by the students.
“The kids will brought out energy I didn’t even know I had,” said Rafter, a native of Houston.
Benjamin said having the soldiers assist with the challenge provided great role models and a positive influence for her students.
“It is sometimes difficult to get children to believe in themselves,” Benjamin said. “But when soldiers are present, it just changes that kiddo that I really have to encourage; the students want to try for them.”
When soldiers were not assisting with the test, they took the opportunity interact with students in the classroom, lunchroom and playground.
“It has really made a positive impact on the kids,” Benjamin said. “Whether a soldier is reading a story or playing with a student, I think the child feels important with the one-on-one interaction.”
Rafter said when he was a child he looked up to the United States military, but had never met a person who was serving until he was 28 years old.
“The first soldier I met was my recruiter,” said Rafter, a native of Houston. “I feel children should get an opportunity to meet a service member before they become an adult, so I’m more than happy to volunteer and help the kids here.”
As the testing day wound down, Benjamin said she could see growth in her students when comparing scores from last fall to this fall,
“I have a mile-club board displayed in the gymnasium already full of names of students who ran one mile in 12 minutes, 59 seconds or faster,” Benjamin said. “Normally that happens during the second round of the PFT.”
Benjamin said she believes that the Soldiers through volunteering from JBLM, can create a positive impact within the city of Orting community.
“The soldiers opened the door to volunteering in any capacity,” Benjamin said. “The district office asked me to invite Soldiers to other events in our community such as baseball games and parents ask me when they are coming back.”
The staff at Ptarmigan Ridge Intermediate School and 62nd Med Bde. Soldiers have two more fitness tests scheduled this school year, with an awards assembly in May to reward the students with a certificate signed by President Barack Obama.