GREENVILLE, Pitt County - In 2006, Martin County residents had the shortest life expectancy in our state. That inspired one man to take action in an effort to help curb childhood obesity.
The Match Wellness program is a web-based system to encourage healthy behavior. It's used for middle students. Director Tim Hardison said activity is a crucial factor in the staggering reality of childhood obesity.
"Our extreme obesity rate in Eastern North Carolina is twice the national average, roughly nine percent of our kids would qualify for gastric bypass, and that's a problem when they're 13 years old," Hardison said.
Even though there's more awareness, childhood obesity is still a problem affecting 10 times more children than it did 40 years ago. But schools like Elmhurst Elementary in Greenville are trying to make a difference.
"It's thinking about their sleep patterns, what they put into their body, how much water they drink, how much activity they have," said Colleen Burt, principal at Elmhurst Elementary. "So yeah as a mom, I'm always thinking about those choices.
"I think overall we have to take some ownership of that and we have to make some changes."
It's one of the reasons Burt is anxiously awaiting the opening of the brand new gymnasium at the school.
"This gym has been five years in the making, since I've been here. However, it's been about 62 years in the making. Elmhurst has never had a gym."
Hardison was recently recognized by the Center for Digital Education as one of the country's top 30 technologists, transformers and trailblazers for 2017. He said he plans to continue making strides to lower the risks of childhood obesity.
There are many more opportunities for children to be active. Hula hoop contests and races during recess help. Hardison agrees it's just as important to teach good habits to younger kids.
"Until we make some changes across the board, it's gonna be tough just because of the region we live in," Hardison said.
With the right mindset and tools, change is possible.
"Keep kids moving, their brains are gonna work better when they're moving," Burt said.
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