South Texas Recognized Healthy Schools Encourage Health Education
Since 2016, the Healthy South Texas Recognized Schools initiative has focused on improving health education and health outcomes in South Texas communities.
The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and Texas A&M Healthy South Texas have implemented the Healthy South Texas Recognized Schools program to recognize a school’s demonstrated commitment to supporting and encouraging healthy lifestyles.
So far, 85 South Texas schools have earned recognized school designations.
About South Texas Health
Healthy South Texas focuses on reducing the region’s most serious diseases and their consequences. It serves the 27 southernmost counties in the state, ranging from Brazoria County to Cameron County, which accounts for approximately 10% of the state’s population.
By combining the clinical and public health expertise of the Texas A&M University Health Science Center with AgriLife Extension’s nationwide network, this program can engage South Texas communities in effective health education programs.
One of the main goals of the program has been to help solve the problem of overweight or obese children and adults in Texas through education and application of the objective, scientific and healthy lifestyle programs of the agency.
“In this program, we provide education and hands-on learning opportunities related to nutrition, healthy food preparation and regular physical activity to help fight preventable diseases and their consequences,” said said Luisa Colin, AgriLife Extension’s Special Initiatives Coordinator for Weslaco-based Healthy South Texas.
Why implement this program?
More than two-thirds of adults and nearly one-third of children and teens in Texas are obese or overweight. In addition, more than 60% of children aged 9 to 13 do not participate in any organized physical activity during their non-school hours. More than 22% of students in this age group do no physical activity in their free time, and only about 25% of high school students get moderate exercise on a regular basis.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that nearly 36% of adult Texans were obese in 2020. The adult obesity rate in the state is estimated to exceed 57% by 2030.
Regular physical activity and weight control can significantly reduce the incidence and impact of chronic diseases like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure and depression. It is also associated with a longer, happier and healthier life.
“AgriLife Extension and Healthy South Texas saw the Healthy South Texas Recognized Schools program as a way to help address the issue of overweight and obese youth,” Colin said. “It was also a way to help fight chronic diseases linked to poor nutrition and poor health.”
Colin said the many schools in which the program has been implemented have created positive changes in activity levels and student and parent behaviors that are consistent with a healthier lifestyle.
“We hope this program will help create a community of health within schools that extends beyond children and their families to the community as a whole,” she said..
Become a Recognized Healthy South Texas School
To become a Healthy South Texas Recognized School, the Designated School must meet certain criteria for participation in signature AgriLife Extension programs that demonstrate the school’s commitment to supporting and encouraging students, staff, and parents to adopt healthy lifestyles.
Designation criteria include voluntary participation in activities that promote physical activity and provide nutrition education. These include agency programs such as Walk Across Texas!, Dinner Tonight! Healthy Cooking School, Learn, Grow, Eat and Go!, Step Up and Scale Down and other health and wellness programs.
“Engaging young people in programs that promote health and well-being is essential,” said Colin. “The Healthy South Texas Recognized Schools program helps integrate healthy lifestyle programs into schools, especially elementary schools. This helps children develop healthier behaviors that they can continue into adulthood.
AgriLife Extension staff meet with school administrators to explain the program and what the school needs to do to be recognized. Then they agree on the commitments that the school and Healthy South Texas will implement under the program.
Participating schools are then given a menu of Healthy South Texas programs to use, and the local AgriLife Extension agent meets with the teacher or teachers who will implement the program and provide them with the necessary training.
“At first, some of the participating schools thought it would be difficult to meet their commitments, but our AgriLife Extension health and wellness activities are so fun and engaging that they soon realized it wouldn’t be difficult to ‘get their designation,’ Colin said.
AgriLife Extension will continue to offer the Healthy South Texas Recognized Schools program throughout South Texas.
“The district-wide acceptance of the program shows that it has been a success and that students, teachers, parents and other program participants have benefited,” Colin said. “We hope that more schools in South Texas will participate so that even more young people and adults can experience its health and wellness benefits.”
To learn more about the Healthy South Texas Recognized Schools program and how to participate, contact Colin at [email protected] or 956-968-5581.