Tucson-area middle school students worked up a sweat Thursday while learning about the importance of nutrition, physical activity and tobacco prevention.
The second annual Wellness Youth Summit, attended by about 150 students from six school districts, was put on by the Pima County Health Department, the University of Arizona and the YMCA of Southern Arizona.
The event was held at the Mulcahy YMCA at Kino Community Center, 2805 E. Ajo Way.
All of the students in attendance are members of their schools' Student Wellness Advocacy Teams (SWAT) and have been working to improve the health of peers, staff, administrators and their surrounding communities.
In between learning about the need for wellness policies and ways they can implement policy in their own schools, students took part in various activities and experiments.
One group got a lesson in how much sugar there really is in sports drinks, juices and sodas. Another learned how tobacco companies market to young people by participating in a smell test that revealed a number of candy-scented tobacco products.
A third group learned how to organize structured recess to get physical activity in while learning. A fourth took part in leadership and team-building exercises.
Lauffer Middle School sixth-grader Tre Razo found the Zumba break most enjoyable as he was able to bust out his Gangnam Style and robot moves.
Through his school SWAT program, Razo, 11, has learned about nutrition and tried various fruits and vegetables, except for squash - the one veggie he is unwilling to test.
"It helps me so I can grow - I don't want to be small forever," he said.
Lauffer seventh-grader Lexus Zambrano enjoyed learning about the benefits of making healthy choices.
"If you take care of yourself and stay healthy, you'll live a longer life," the 12-year-old said.
A second Wellness Summit will be held next week for high schoolers, said Greg Rivera, program coordinator for the Pima County Health Department.
"Our concern is leaving a lasting legacy and encouraging students to advocate within their schools and communities for healthy changes," Rivera said.
Rivera added that young people have been receptive to the program despite growing up in a world that "favors fast food."
Rich Garcia, a prevention specialist, runs SWAT at Lauffer and says the program is much needed.
"I'm from the south side, and there's not a lot of teaching going on about nutrition," Garcia said. "Through this leadership program, students are taking what they learn and going home to share with their parents."
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Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4175. On Twitter @AlexisHuicochea