Schools, take note. Childhood obesity and diabetes are on the rise in Ireland, but the 700 students of St. Paul’s National School in Navan have never felt better. Since 2010, the school has implemented a healthy lifestyle campaign to get students moving and eating healthier. The result? Both students and faculty are more focused, active, and joyful.

To increase daily activity levels, the administration tapped into kids’ competitive and playful nature by giving the students and teachers pedometers and sharing each week who’s in the lead. “Scores created excitement among the children who experienced an overwhelming sense of enthusiasm,” says school principal Patricia Fahy. “The pupils enjoyed enhanced levels of self-esteem and you could almost feel the positive energy which was generated throughout the school.” Some students even run laps around the track in-between classes to score extra steps. And the fun continues when students participate in DEAD–that’s “Drop Everything And Dance”–when “The Cha Cha Slide” takes brief precedence over multiplication drills.

Healthy lunches are a key focus of the program too. Students have done experiments to learn how much sugar is in different foods and drinks, and the school appoints student “lunch detectives” (costumes included!) to inspect just how healthy their classmates’ lunches are. And all stakeholders get involved. “The children, parents and staff got together and compiled lunchbox guidelines urging parents to pack wholesome lunches with milk or water as the preferred drinks,” Fahy says.

And it’s not just physical care that the school is concerned with. Students engage in “positivity weeks” where they’re encouraged to share art and pictures on achievement boards for more positive thinking. “The school programme has created an overwhelming enthusiasm to develop a healthy lifestyle, which we hope will continue with the children into their teenage years and adult life,” explains Fahy.

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