Ian Kahn, a wellness specialist with the Austin Independent School District (AISD) in Austin, Tex., is battling our childhood obesity epidemic. Interestingly, his approach is centered on teachers, not students.

Leading by example

Kahn manages a district-wide wellness program with a mission to educate, inform and provide resources and support to enable staff to live healthier lifestyles. The program offers monthly initiatives and challenges, online resources, educational seminars, confidential health risk assessments and discounted services from community wellness partners.

"Teachers who reinforce positive healthy behaviors throughout the day have a far greater impact on a child’s behavior around food choices than nutrition information alone."

Teachers spend up to eight hours a day with their students and are in a unique position to model practical strategies for wellness and make health meaningful to those children.

In fact, studies show that teachers who reinforce positive healthy behaviors throughout the day have a far greater impact on a child’s behavior around food choices than nutrition information alone. According to Whole Kids Foundation, a non-profit organization established by Whole Foods Market, teachers who are given access to nutrition and health education are equipped to be stronger advocates for school wellness policies and apply them to class lessons, celebrations and activities.

Getting into shape

Some school districts also offer professional development hours for teachers who attend workshops such as Whole Kids Foundation’s Healthy Teacher Program. This free two-hour class covers the basic principles of nutrition, meal planning, healthy cooking demonstrations and offers online tips and recipes for classroom and home support to the public.

Dan Marek, the foundation’s school programs educator, says success stories range from participants cooking more often at home to becoming healthy school advocates. Some of these advocates have gone on to secure school gardens and salad bars for their schools. By empowering teachers with the tools for a healthy lifestyle, school districts such as AISD are also investing in their students. Now students can make the grade and healthier choices.