On the surface the news sounds ridiculous, so it’s easy to see why Brian Geiger, Ed.D., was stunned.
“Did you hear about the action of a school board in Massa-chusetts? They banned tag,” says an incredulous Geiger, an associate professor of education in Human Studies. He was referring to Willett Elementary School, located south of Boston, which recently decided the children’s game would no longer be allowed on its playground to reduce accidents and liability concerns.
“At a time when we need to emphasize physical activity for children, it’s being de-emphasized? It’s unbelievable,” he says.
Geiger’s fervor about children’s health issues, especially here in Alabama, has been well documented. And his work in the area of educating the public on the need for more opportunities for children to better their physical well-being was recently rewarded when Geiger was named the 2006 Health Educator of the Year by the Alabama State Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (ASAHPERD). The award was presented at the ASAHPERD fall conference Nov. 14 at the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover. Nomin-ations for the award were submitted by faculty, alumni and students.
“It means a great deal to have that kind of support,” Geiger says. “It’s pretty high praise. To have students I’m currently teaching and students I’ve taught in the past nominate me, along with fellow colleagues, is quite an honor.”
It’s not just the nominations that won him recognition, though; ASAHPERD looks at the nominee’s body of work in order to aid in determining the award’s recipient. Geiger’s is an impressive one.
He has been an investigator with the Wilcox County Disease Prevention Project, a four-year initiative funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Association of Schools of Public Health, and a senior investigator of a national teen pregnancy- prevention project funded by the CDC.
Geiger also has been published on topics related to school health-education program planning, implementation and evaluation, something he has dealt with broadly as the principal investigator for the Selma Nutrition, Exercise and Wellness Study for Students.
The overall goal of that program is to improve the health of Selma City Schools’ students, faculty and staff through improving the nutrition, health and physical education programs in the schools.
Among the ways the program is accomplishing its goal are decreasing fats and simple carbohydrates in school menus, adding breakfast, changing vending machine offerings to 100 percent juice and water, selling healthy alternatives as school fundraisers, equipping students with pedometers and ramping up elementary P.E. programs by creating structured plans that require students to get moving.
Selma City Schools’ Superintendent James Carter was spurred to action by the very high rate of obesity and heart disease in Dallas County. Ron Sparks, Alabama commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Industry, secured the funding for the Selma project, which has included playground cleanups and facility assessments in an effort to encourage children to spend time outside playing.
“He took a chance, and it’s paying off,” Geiger says. “Standards are being changed and children are being given a chance.”
Alabama was actually one of the first states to restrict unhealthy food through vending in 2005, like that in Selma.
The need for changes in the physical activity of children in the state goes far beyond Selma, Geiger says. He points to a recent five-year study of children in the Birmingham metro area that found that 16 percent were at risk of being overweight, while another 16 percent were already considered overweight.
“The State Obesity Task Force issued its first plan this past summer with recommendations and guidelines for improving health and well-being before, during and after school,” Geiger says. These guidelines are compatible with changes made in Selma schools to reduce portion sizes and add healthy a la carte choices, in addition to more organized and rigorous physical education classes.
But for the project to flourish, more funding will be needed. The hope is that schools can reduce physical education class ratios, as was recently approved by the State Board of Education.
“I think the needs now are clear, and more people are beginning to understand the physical education of our children is just as important as the cognitive education,” Geiger says. “Kids don’t get to vote, and caregivers need to speak up. If we don’t provide supporting opportunities, the health of children will suffer. Parents need to get involved and demand these things happen.”