CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — Students and teachers at 121 Tennessee elementary schools are now participating in the second phase of a successful pilot program that teaches children in grades K-5 the benefits of proper exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle.

BlueCross WalkingWorks for Schools, sponsored by BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, is a program aimed at improving children’s health by encouraging physical activity during the school day with a simple activity – walking. The spring pilot includes nearly 50,000 students and 2,350 teachers in 36 counties

The prevalence of obesity is a growing problem in Tennessee, particularly among school-age children, as an estimated 19 to 30 percent of Tennessee school students are overweight and 25 to 43 percent of Tennessee school students are at risk for being overweight, according to the Tennessee Coordinated School Health Program.

Trends in poor nutrition and decreased physical activity have been reinforced with less emphasis on physical education and activity during the school day due in part to funding issues and stricter academic testing standards. In an ongoing Tennessee Coordinated School Health Program study of physical education time in Tennessee, students in grades K through 12 spent less than 15 minutes per day in a physical education class in 2003 and 2004.

BlueCross WalkingWorks for Schools focuses on walking, which is one of the easiest ways to begin an exercise program as little equipment and no facilities are required. The program outlines a walking regimen of at least five minutes, equal to walking one lap around a track or a quarter mile, at times during the day that are the most convenient for the teacher. Principals, staff and other administrators are encouraged to walk with classes.

As part of the program, BlueCross WalkingWorks for Schools provides an easy-to-use tracking poster for teachers to record students’ participation and progress. Students are given a blue WalkingWorks wristband to signify participation in the program and serve as a reminder to be active and make healthy choices at home and at school. At the end of the program, students and teachers are awarded a certificate signed by Governor Phil Bredesen.

Parents are also encouraged to get involved in the program by helping their children continue their walking routine at home. Nutritional information and a walking log are available on the BlueCross WalkingWorks for Schools Web site, www.WalkingWorksForSchoolsTN.com

“The first phase of our pilot program for schools was very successful, and teachers are genuinely using and enjoying this program, helping their students stay fit and alert in the classroom,” said Vicky Gregg, president and CEO of BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, which helped develop the program.

“As the program continues to expand, we hope that children who learn about the benefits of physical activity at an early age will reap the numerous benefits associated with exercise and healthy lifestyles for the rest of their lives.”

In addition to encouraging students to acquire an active lifestyle early, the program has the potential for immediate benefits. According to the Tennessee Department of Education, schools that offer physical education programs – even when time is taken from the academic day – post positive effects on academic achievement, including increased concentration, improved scores in mathematics, reading and writing and reduced disruptive behaviors.

About BlueCross WalkingWorks for Schools

BlueCross WalkingWorks for Schools was developed by BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee and the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Health, in partnership with the Tennessee Department of Education, the Tennessee Department of Health, Belmont University and the Tennessee Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance. BlueCross WalkingWorks for Schools was created to address the growing trend of decreased physical activity in the lives of our young people by teaching children in grades K-5 the benefits of proper exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle. For more information, visit www.WalkingWorksForSchoolsTN.com.

About BlueCross

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee's mission is to provide its customers and communities with peace of mind through affordable solutions for health and healing, life and living. Founded in 1945, the Chattanooga-based company is focused on reinventing the health plan for its 3 million members in Tennessee and across the country. Through its integrated health management approach, BlueCross provides patient-centric products and services that drive health improvement and positively impact health care quality and value. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Inc. is an independent licensee of the BlueCross BlueShield Association. For more information, visit the company's website at www.bcbst.com.