Oswego battles obesity

The Oswego City High School is attempting to tackle the obesity problem that is affecting its students by creating more opportunities for fitness and offering a variety of programs in its curriculum.

The epidemic of obesity in the city of Oswego is nothing new; in fact it is nothing new to the nation. According to America’s Health Ranking, an annual report that measures the overall health of the United States, obesity in the United States was at a consistent rate with about 12.7 percent of the population up until the late 1990s. But 2012 data shows a majority that the states, including New York, have a 24.1 or higher percentage of the population estimated to be obese.

Childhood obesity has followed this growing trend throughout New York counties. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes obesity as “having excess body weight for a particular height from fat, muscle, bone, water or a combination of these factors.” The CDC also states that in 2010, “more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.” The numbers vary depending on race, ethnicity and income status.

According to the New York State Department of Health, 31.2 percent of elementary school students in Oswego County are overweight or obese, and 46.1 percent of middle and high school students in Oswego County are overweight or obese. The CDC also reports that Oswego County has one of the highest rates in the state, with obesity among low-income students more than 20 percent.

These numbers do not surprise Dave Gryczka, dean of students and director of physical education at the high school. Gryczka, who is in charge of planning the curriculum of the physical education classes at the Oswego High School and who also performs evaluations of staff throughout the district, believes that improvements have been put into action to help solve the obesity problem among Oswego youth.

“We offer a variety of programs, ranging from individual sports, team sports and cooperative games,” Gryczka said. But during the winter, space is a challenge. He explained that when weather permits, students may play on tennis and basketball courts outside.

“Everybody in the state has to be enrolled every year in physical education while in school,” Gryczka, said. He further explained that in order to graduate high school, students must complete two credits of physical education over the course of four years.

According to Gryczka, changes in school lunches and teachers incorporating activities outside are helping to handle the problem. He also said the high school invested $150,000 in a new weight/fitness room available to current high school students.

Frank Bahamonde is the full-time strength trainer in charge of this room. Bahamonde designed what he calls a “female-friendly” facility because students can easily adjust the weights and settings. Students can also engage in cardiovascular exercise and strength training under Bahamonde’s guidance.

According to Bahamonde, just in the month of September more than 1,200 people have used the room. The fitness room is also available to faculty and staff, but Bahamonde has noticed that the majority of people using the room are female students.

Bahamonde keeps a series of strict rules to maintain the fitness environment. Students must have clean sneakers, wipe equipment after use and no food or hanging around is allowed. He believes the presence of this room has helped in the coaching for healthy lifestyles.

“They [students] got enough friends, they need people to guide them and to mentor them to the next level,” Bahamonde said. “They might not go DI (Division I Intercollegiate Sports), they might not even go to college, but they can get something out of here that they can take into life.”

Physical education teacher, Brian Parrotte said he believes that participation is the biggest challenge that teachers face in the gym setting, but that the fitness room is helping solve this problem. Parrotte said that students can come during study halls, free periods, lunches or after school to make up missed classes. Parrotte noticed that in past years he typically failed 77 out of 200 students. Since the opening of the fitness room, the number of failures has gone down to fewer than 25 students.

“The kids really value this room,” Parrotte said. “This is a tremendous luxury. A lot of schools don’t have full-time strength trainers.”

To former Oswego High School student, Karly Babcock, the physical education classes were a chance for fun times with friends, but she noticed that some of the girls would not participate.

“The teachers would provide the opportunity and try to get students to participate, but often times they would give up on those students,” Babcock said. “They left it up to them and when they didn’t participate, they’d fail.”

Dave Gryczka believes that the work of physical education teachers does not get enough credit.

“We are trying to equip students with skills that they can use for everyday life,” Gryczka said. “They [students] don’t want to recognize that the one thing you’re gonna have to use everyday for the rest of your life is the ability to take care of yourself.”