Since 2016, the Healthy South Texas Recognized Schools initiative has been 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 implemented the Healthy South Texas Recognized Schools program to acknowledge a school’s demonstrated commitment to supporting and encouraging healthy lifestyles.
So far, 85 schools throughout South Texas have earned recognized school designations.
About Healthy South Texas
Healthy South Texas focuses on reducing the region’s highest impact diseases and their consequences. It serves the 27 southernmost counties of the state, spanning from Brazoria County to Cameron County, which accounts for about 10% of the state’s population.
By combining the clinical and public health expertise of Texas A&M University Health Science Center with the statewide network of AgriLife Extension, this program can engage communities across South Texas in effective health education programming.
A major goal of the program has been to help 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.
“In this program, we provide education and hands-on learning opportunities related to nutrition, healthy food preparation and regular physical activity to help address preventable diseases and their consequences,” said Luisa Colin, AgriLife Extension special initiatives coordinator for Healthy South Texas, based in Weslaco.
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 ages 9 to 13 do not participate in any organized physical activity during their non-school hours. More than 22% in that age range do not engage in any free-time physical activity, and only about 25% of high school students get regular, moderate exercise.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows nearly 36% of adult Texans were obese as of 2020. It is estimated adult obesity rates in the state will exceed 57% by 2030.
Regular physical activity and controlling weight 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 living 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 problem of overweight and obese youth,” Colin said. “It was also a way to help curb chronic diseases related to poor nutrition and health.”
Colin said the numerous schools in which the program has been implemented have created positive changes in both student and parental activity levels and behaviors that are consistent with a more healthy lifestyle.
Becoming a Healthy South Texas Recognized School
To become a Healthy South Texas Recognized School, the designated school must meet certain criteria with participation in AgriLife Extension signature programs that demonstrate the school’s commitment to supporting and encouraging students, staff and parents with healthy lifestyles.
Criteria for the designation include voluntary participation in activities that promote physical activity and offer nutrition education. These include agency programs such as Walk Across Texas!, the Dinner Tonight! Healthy Cooking School, Learn, Grow, Eat and Go!, Step Up and Scale Down and other health and wellness programs.
“Getting youth involved in programs that promote health and wellness is essential,” Colin said. “The Healthy South Texas Recognized Schools program helps integrate healthy lifestyle programming into schools, especially elementary schools. This helps kids develop healthier behaviors they can continue into adulthood.”
AgriLife Extension personnel meet with school administrators to explain the program and what the school must do to become recognized. Then, they agree on what commitments the school and Healthy South Texas will implement to the program.
Participating schools are then provided with a menu of Healthy South Texas programs to utilize, and the local AgriLife Extension agent meets with the teacher or teachers who will implement the program and provides them with the necessary training.
“At first, some of the participating schools thought it would be difficult to complete their commitments, but our AgriLife Extension health and wellness activities are so fun and interesting, they soon realized it would be no problem to get their designation,” Colin said.
AgriLife Extension will continue to offer the Healthy South Texas Recognized Schools program throughout South Texas.
“District-wide acceptance of the program shows it has been successful and students, teachers, parents and other program participants have benefited from it,” Colin said. “We are hoping even more South Texas schools will participate so an even greater number of youth 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.