Healthy South Texas Accredited Schools promote health education

Group holding Healthy South Texas Accredited School advertisement banner
Schools that receive the Healthy South Texas Recognized Schools designation receive a banner to display on their campus. (Photo by Texas A&M AgriLife)

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 established the Healthy South Texas Recognized Schools program to recognize a school’s demonstrated commitment to supporting and promoting a healthy lifestyle.

To date, 85 schools throughout South Texas have received recognized school designations.

About Sane South Texas

Healthy South Texas is focused on reducing the region’s highest impact diseases and their consequences. It serves the state’s 27 southernmost counties, stretching from Brazoria County to Cameron County, and accounts for about 10% of the state’s population.

By combining the clinical and public health expertise of Texas A&M University’s Health Science Center with AgriLife Extension’s statewide network, this program is able to engage communities throughout South Texas in effective health education programs.

A primary goal of the program was to address the problem of overweight or obese children and adults in Texas through education and application of the agency’s objective, science-based healthy lifestyle programs.

“Through this program, we provide educational and hands-on learning opportunities related to nutrition, healthy food preparation, and regular physical activity to address preventable diseases and their consequences,” said Luisa Colin, Weslaco-based AgriLife Extension Special Initiatives Coordinator for Healthy South Texas .

Why implement this program?

More than two-thirds of adults and nearly one-third of children and teenagers 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 outside of school hours. More than 22% in this age group do not engage in recreational physical activity, and only about 25% of high school students engage in regular and moderate physical activity.

Parents and teachers participating in the Healthy South Texas Recognized Schools program.
The Healthy South Texas Recognized Schools program also includes parent and teacher participation. (Photo by Texas A&M AgriLife)

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that nearly 36% of adult Texans were obese in 2020. It is estimated that the state’s adult obesity rate will surpass 57% by 2030.

Regular physical activity and weight management can significantly reduce the occurrence and impact of chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure and depression. It is also associated with longer, happier, and healthier lives.

“AgriLife Extension and Healthy South Texas saw the Healthy South Texas Recognized Schools program as a way to address the problem of overweight and obese youth,” said Colin. “It was also a way to curb chronic diseases associated with poor diet and poor health.”

Colin said the numerous schools that have implemented the program have produced positive changes in both student activity levels and parenting behaviors that are consistent with healthier lifestyles.

“We hope this program will help create a health community within schools that extends beyond the children and their families to the wider community,” she said.

Become an accredited school for Healthy South Texas

To become a Healthy South Texas accredited school, the designated school must meet certain criteria and participate in AgriLife Extension signature programs that demonstrate the school’s commitment to supporting and encouraging students, staff and parents to lead healthy lifestyles.

Criteria for the appointment include voluntary participation in activities to promote physical activity and nutrition education. These include agency programs like Walk Across Texas!, Dinner Tonight! Healthy Cooking School, Learn, Grow, Eat and Go!, Step Up and Scale Down and other health and wellness programs.

Students, teachers and others participating in the Walk Across Texas!  Program as part of Healthy South Texas Recognized Schools activities.
One of the health and wellness programs that students, teachers, and parents can participate in to earn the Healthy South Texas Recognized Schools designation is the eight-week Walk Across Texas! Program. (Photo by Texas A&M AgriLife)

“Involving youth in programs that promote health and well-being is critical,” said Colin. The Healthy South Texas Recognized Schools program is helping to integrate healthy lifestyle programs into schools, particularly elementary schools. This helps children develop healthier behaviors that they can continue into adulthood.”

AgriLife Extension staff meets with school administrators to explain the program and what the school must do to be recognized. They then agree on what commitments the school and Healthy South Texas will implement for the program.

Participating schools are then given a selection of Healthy South Texas programs to take advantage of, and the local AgriLife Extension agent meets with the teacher or teachers implementing the program and provides them with the training they need.

“Initially, 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 interesting that they quickly realized that their designation would not be a problem get,” said Colin.

Go forward

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 successful and has benefited students, teachers, parents and other program participants,” said Colin. “We hope more schools in South Texas will participate so more youth and adults can experience the 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.

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