Local schools take up Atlantic Health System challenge

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— Atlantic Health System is teaming up with local schools to develop programs that will make it easier for students to embrace healthy lifestyles and habits, as part of the Atlantic Healthy Schools program’s A+ Challenge.

Several schools in the region served by Newton Medical Center, a part of the Atlantic Health System, have taken up the challenge. Among them are Hilltop Country Day School in Sparta, Sparta Middle School and Lafayette Township School.

The initiative was created in response to data indicating that chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity, are major health issues in local communities. Prevention, combined with early intervention, is easier and more cost-effective than treatment, making schools the perfect setting for creating a positive impact on the health of local communities.

“Our goal is to help schools create an environment and culture where everything is working to make the healthy choices the easy choices,” said Maryann Walsh, coordinator of the Atlantic Healthy Schools program.

Throughout central and northwestern New Jersey, 37 schools were selected to receive funding from Atlantic Health System for their selected projects. The schools are also provided with assistance and resources from on-call Atlantic Healthy Schools specialists.

The projects range from infrastructure upgrades such as installing bike racks to encourage biking, to programmatic changes, such as a “no food rewards” policy, in which students are not rewarded with food, but instead with healthier alternatives such as additional play time, field trips, stickers, school supplies or toys, to events such as a physical activity fair in the community.

Schools began to receive funding for the programs the first week of January. The A+ Challenge will culminate with a celebration recognizing the schools’ achievements in June.

Hilltop County Day School's project is Healthy Food Tastings, wherein the school will host monthly tastings of different fruits and vegetables at lunch time or as part of existing before/after school programs.

Sparta Middle School's project is No “Food Rewards” Policy, the cjhallenge being to develop, approve and implement a policy that ensures students are not rewarded with food, but instead with healthier alternatives such as additional play time, field trips, stickers, school supplies or toys.

Lafayette Township School has taken up two projects. Active Classroom, which involves bringing physical activity into the classroom, regardless of the subject. Ideas include:

• Take regular structured “brain breaks” for students to get up and move around the classroom/stretch

• Purchase equipment such as seated foot pedals, yoga balls, standing desks for use during class

• Create active curriculum (e.g., counting with jumping jacks in math, acting out plays in literature)

The Farm-to-School Initiative, which Lafayette is also taking up, involves helping students and families connect to local farms by incorporating local food into school lunches, visiting local farms, and/or making local produce available to families at minimal cost.

About Atlantic Health System

Atlantic Health System, headquartered in Morristown, N.J., is an integrated health care delivery system powered by a workforce of 16,000 team members dedicated to building healthier communities. The system is comprised of 350 sites of care, including six hospitals: Morristown Medical Center, Overlook Medical Center, Newton Medical Center, Chilton Medical Center, Hackettstown Medical Center and Goryeb Children’s Hospital. Atlantic Health System also supports communities through Atlantic Medical Group, Atlantic Rehabilitation, Atlantic Home Care and Hospice, and its subsidiary, Atlantic Ambulance Corporation. Atlantic Health System sponsors the Atlantic Accountable Care Organization, one of the larger ACOs in the nation, and Optimus Healthcare Partners.

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