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Backpacks with outdoor toys encourage kids to stay active this summer

TAMPA

The Bryant family has always been active. Jennifer and Kenneth's three children all play sports and the family is constantly on the move.

"We always thought because we were active, we could eat what we wanted to," Jennifer Bryant said.

But Noah Bryant, a first-grader at Richardson Montessori Academy, has been learning about healthy eating through the Moffitt Healthy Kidz Program and it has changed how his parents look at mealtimes.

Kindergarten and first-grade students participated in the five-week program, with special lessons once a week about fitness, healthy eating, sun protection and the dangers of smoking. The program has been running in Hillsborough County schools since 2009.

To cap off the program at Richardson this year, students received backpacks Tuesday with toys, including jump ropes and beach balls to encourage them to turn off the TV, put down the junk food and play outside this summer.

Healthy Kidz works because it is motivational and interactive, said Nikki Ross-Inda, program organizer for Moffitt. It's harder for adults to change their habits, so she hopes what the kids learn will stick with them into adulthood.

About 30 students got the backpacks. It's expected 1,000 will be distributed, targeting low-income families. Some will be distributed during a back-to-school event in August at the Lee Davis Neighborhood Service Center in Tampa. The nonprofit organization Children With a Vision will give out some backpacks, as well. Others will be distributed in rural areas.

A Pepsi Refresh grant paid for supplies in the 1,000 backpacks. Molina Healthcare donated the packs, and USF public health students put them together.

Ross-Inda hopes to find funding and community partners for more backpacks.

Teachers at Richardson have noticed changes over recent weeks in how students act in the classroom. Noah Bryant earned straight A's on his last report card, his mother said. The students talk about what they've learned, and compare notes on each other's healthy lunches.

Noah can't pick just one favorite fruit. He has three: strawberries, apples and blueberries. The 7-year-old wants to play football and be a lawyer someday, so he's going to need a lot of energy.

"That's why I eat fruits and vegetables," he said. He stays away from sugary foods and caffeine.

"It's just as important to make the right food choices," his mother said, "as it is to run that extra mile."

Keeley Sheehan can be reached at (813) 226-3321 or ksheehan@tampabay.com.

CORRECTION: The Moffitt Healthy Kidz Program will distribute backpacks during a back-to-school event in August at the Lee Davis Neighborhood Service Center in Tampa. Earlier versions of this story appearing in print and online gave an incorrect location.

Backpacks with outdoor toys encourage kids to stay active this summer 06/07/12 [Last modified: Thursday, June 7, 2012 5:10pm]
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