Teaching Balance

By Andrew W. Smiley

A diagram of the body’s energy balance equation—what the National Institutes of Health defines as the system of receiving and expending energy—would resemble a seesaw. The intake of calories and nutrients would be on one end of the seesaw, and the expenditure of energy through physical activity on the other. Even a very young child can understand the requirements for balance with this basic principle: both sides must be equivalent. This concept is the spirit of a new partnership between Sustainable Food Center (SFC) and the Marathon Kids running and walking program.

Through a collaboration that began with the 2010–2011 school year, SFC (through its Sprouting Healthy Communities initiative) and Marathon Kids are seeking to leverage participation among Austin-area students, parents and community members in healthful food and physical activity programs.

At selected schools, students dine on locally grown foods in school cafeterias, grow their own fruits and vegetables in school gardens, meet local farmers and even complete a 26.2-mile marathon (over the course of the school year).

The new program builds on many of the components of SFC’s Sprouting Healthy Kids middle-school pilot project, which featured local foods in school cafeterias, healthful food and food-systems lessons, and hands-on gardening and cooking activities. As the three-year pilot came to a close this year, SFC identified the most effective elements and applied them to the elementary grades. SFC also expanded its work into the Sprouting Healthy Communities initiative, which provides community gardening, healthful cooking and local food access opportunities to parents at their local schools and in surrounding neighborhoods. Marathon Kids will add the physical activity variable to the seesaw equation via walking and running activities for both students and adults.

At the core of the partnership is the involvement of parents, school faculty and community members in program leadership roles. Initial community-organizing work started last school year with very positive feedback. Parents at several schools have enthusiastically expressed interest in helping to coordinate SFC’s The Happy Kitchen (La Cocina Alegre) cooking classes, organize community food gardens and lead community walking clubs, with efforts directed primarily at East and Northeast Austin, where access to healthful food is most limited and the greatest risk of diet-related health problems exists.

Marathon Kids and SFC joined forces through a mutual understanding of the importance of energy balance. Other partners, such as the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation and the St. David’s Foundation, have also encouraged the collaborative effort, and have provided start-up funding to support the promotion of a healthy, balanced lifestyle.

Sustainable Food Center, sustainablefoodcenter.org
Marathon Kids, marathonkids.org