By Laura Turner Seydel
In Atlanta, parents are no strangers to smog. When our skyline disappears behind dense, gray fumes, we know it’s time to keep our kids inside to protect their impressionable lungs.
We do so to keep our kids from the coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath associated with asthma, which, according to Children’s Health Care of Atlanta is the number one reason children miss school and are admitted to Atlanta hospitals. This is not only a health burden, but a financial burden for parents as they have to miss work to care for sick children and pay costly medical bills.
In addition to all the stresses and worries from the city’s sub-par air quality, parents are now challenged with yet another alarming statistic; Just this year it was announced that Atlanta has the second-highest rate of childhood obesity in the nation. It seems like the odds are stacked against us parents, but there are opportunities to keep our kids eating healthy and staying active, two important factors in combating both asthma and obesity.
Making huge strides for the cause, last month the Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy announced the adoption of the new Air Quality Index Flag Program (AQI), in partnership with EPA administrator Lisa Jackson (www.epa.gov), Mayor Kasim Reed and Dr. Bernice King. This new initiative, developed by Mothers and Others for Clean Air (www.mocleanair.org) will create a visual announcement of current air quality standards by placing colored flags (green means good, yellow means moderate, orange means unhealthy and red is very unhealthy) throughout the school campus.
These flags will alert teachers, coaches and parents about Atlanta’s smog concerns and dictate the day’s schedule accordingly. When the green flag is waving, teachers and coaches are encouraged to get kids out of the classroom and moving, whether participating in an outside game or interactive learning activity. Conversely, when the warning flags are up, PE teachers will know to plan indoor activates to reduce exposure and risk to their student’s developing lungs.
Going one step further, thanks to a grant from the Captain Planet Foundation and a helping green thumb from Farmer D Organics, the school also established their first edible garden to promote healthy eating and the benefits of eating chemical-free, locally grown food. The students will be involved in the planting, maintenance and harvesting of the garden, which serves triple duty: the kids stay active, eat healthy and learn about the environment.
The lessons learned, through exciting curriculums based around the garden, instill upon students the importance and balance between personal health and the environment and motivate them to become environmental stewards in their own right.
With the Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy paving the way, we hope to see programs and initiatives like these established at other area schools in hopes of reversing the statistics of asthma and obesity. It’s also important to adopt healthy habits at home and encourage our kids to play outside when the weather is good. The more we all get off couch and take action, the better the chance for a healthy and happy future.
For more information about childhood asthma, visit Emory University’s Department of Pediatrics at www.pediactrics.emory.edu or Children’s Health Care of Atlanta at www.choa.org. And for more eco-living tips, visit www.lauraseydel.com.