Winning the battle against childhood obesity one school at a time

With one in five school-age children considered obese, childhood obesity is a public health epidemic that many communities simply don't have the resources to combat. The UCLA Health Sound Body Sound Mind program is working to change that.

The initiative provides state-of-the-art fitness equipment to underserved middle schools and high schools, trains the schools' physical education teachers to implement the program, and helps build strong foundations for healthy lifestyles.

"A lot of the communities where we've implemented this program had no gym equipment at all, and there weren't any opportunities for students to be physically active," said Matthew Flesock, executive director of UCLA Health Sound Body Sound Mind. "By teaching students how to use this equipment starting in middle school, they find activities they enjoy and begin to build healthy habits that will last a lifetime."

Those habits can help prevent health problems such as diabetes and heart disease, which experts say are on the rise as the obesity problem grows. "Our population, and especially our young people, are getting heavier, and it's extremely troubling," said David McAllister, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at UCLA Health and a member of the UCLA Health Sound Body Sound Mind Academic Advisory Council. "Obesity leads to chronic diseases that require lifelong medication and can have major health consequences. In many cases, these are preventable with diet and exercise."

That's what makes the UCLA Health Sound Body Sound Mind program so impactful - and such a potential model for school districts. On average, its leaders say, the number of students who are able to pass the California state fitness test grows by 25% after just eight weeks of participation.

More schools are taking note. The program has now opened fitness centers at 121 schools in California and 10 schools in three other states.

Distributed by LAKANA. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.