CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — This fall, approximately 165,000 students across Tennessee are benefiting from the statewide launch of a program aimed at improving children’s health by encouraging them to acquire an active lifestyle at an early age through a simple activity – walking.

BlueCross WalkingWorks for Schools was created to address the growing issue of childhood obesity, but the pilot program has shown immediate benefits in behavior and learning as well, according to teachers. Of those teachers who participated in the pilot, 75 percent noticed physical changes among their students, while nearly 70 percent indicated overall improvement in behavior since they started walking with their students.

BlueCross WalkingWorks for Schools is a 24-week walking program for classrooms that teaches children in grades K-5 the importance of proper exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle. The program began in 2005 in 35 pilot schools across nine counties. This fall an estimated 390 Tennessee elementary schools in 67 counties are taking part in the statewide launch.

“We have had so much positive feedback from our pilot participants and are excited about extending the program to additional elementary schools this fall,” said Emily Dockery, program manager for BlueCross WalkingWorks for Schools. “As BlueCross WalkingWorks for Schools expands, we hope that children who learn about the benefits of physical activity at an early age will reap the numerous rewards associated with exercise and healthy lifestyles for the rest of their lives.”

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.

Poor nutrition and decreased physical activity contributes to the obesity epidemic. In addition, schools place 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. 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.

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 FedEx, the Tennessee Department of Education, the Tennessee Department of Health, 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.

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.