HOLLANDALE, Miss. – In most schools, structured physical education is a fundamental offering. But in a region of the nation where obesity is prevalent and preventive healthcare is hard to find, such curricula shouldn’t seem like a luxury.

“Some schools don’t even have P.E. teachers,” said Leslie Johnson, a program director for the Delta Health Alliance (DHA). “Hard to believe. But so much depends on our children having access to regular, organized physical education.”

To help ensure that students are receiving the physical activity necessary for good health and better academic performance, behavior and cognitive skills, DHA has been offering a program called CATCH, or Coordinated Approach to Child Health. By uniting multiple players in a child’s life, CATCH is proven to help prevent childhood obesity.

Two of the most important ways that CATCH, a nationally recognized program, creates behavior change are by enabling children to identify health foods, and by increasing the amount of moderate to vigorous physical activity that children engage in every day.

“CATCH is all inclusive,” said Johnson. “It’s not so much about competition as it is making sure that all children are participating.”

The program began in the Delta several years ago with Johnson and CATCH representatives working with schools and P.E. teachers in Leland and Hollandale to implement onsite training. The program also involves pre- and post-testing of students’ knowledge and behavior regarding physical activity and nutrition.

“In P.E., a lot of times children don’t have a lot of structured curriculum to make sure all children are participating,” said Johnson.

Through CATCH, all children participate in activities designed to be effective for good health as well as being fun. Teachers are trained and provided materials to conduct the program in their respective schools.

At Sanders Elementary School in Hollandale, Delinda Samuel, a P.E. teacher has been at the helm of the CATCH program.

“Back in the day, P.E. often meant just throwing a ball and trying to catch it. But not anymore,” said Samuel. “I can tell you that my students are much more excited about coming to P.E. because it’s something different each week.”

From games and exercises focused on hand-eye coordination to activities that combine physical activity with problem solving, the CATCH program is laying the foundation for a healthy life, said Samuel.

DHA’s interest in the health of Delta children isn’t confined to physical activity. The organization is also involved in programs that teach children about the dangers of smoking. Hundreds of high school and elementary students in Bolivar, Sunflower, Coahoma, Tunica, Quitman and Tallahatchie counties have been schooled in the risks associated with tobacco use through a cessation and prevention program sponsored and overseen by DHA.

Teaching students the role that tobacco use plays in chronic illnesses and conditions such as obesity, asthma, hypertension and diabetes helps drive home the message that tobacco has no place in anyone’s life.

“All of these programs go hand in hand to make sure that our kids have the chance to live a healthy life,” said Johnson.  “P.E. should be a fun time for students. School should be a place that teaches the things they can use after high school.”

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