GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - State health officials say Mississippi's childhood obesity rate is dropping. Schools have played a major role in that battle by changing their strategy on nutrition and exercise. On Thursday, hundreds of Gulfport students received a simple weapon to help them fight the flab. The battle cry is simple: Play Ball!
"How many grams of sugar should we be having every day?" the lady asked the students.
"Twelve," the children replied.
"What if I told you Mountain Dew has 77?" she asked them.
The crowd let out a big gasp.
Some surprising numbers about the amount of sugar in sodas, energy drinks and sweet tea kicked off the health lesson. The students also learned how long they will have to jump rope to burn calories.
"I didn't know we had to do that much exercising to burn off the weight," said fourth grader Javen' Evans.
That's why the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi brought its "Just Have a Ball" campaign to West Elementary School Thursday. The program showed how fitness can be fun with just a playground ball.
"They can use the ball we have to play kick ball or four squares. And the whole sugar presentation is just to show to be more mindful of what they're eating," said Melissa Boguslawski, Health and Wellness Co-Director for the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi. "It's just moving more, eating less of the bad stuff and more of the good stuff. That's why we talk about the 60-minutes a day and how it can be anything that kids find fun."
The Partnership credits programs like that for helping Mississippi children make healthier choices.
"Childhood obesity is definitely one of the ones that actually in elementary age students where it's decreasing. So it's really, really exciting," said Boguslawski.
To cap off the event, all 125-fourth and fifth graders received a ball to keep.
"I was so much excited, because they gave us a ball and this the first time giving us a ball," said fourth grader Ameariun Harper.
"I was very, very surprised that we were going to get a ball and take it home so we could exercise with it," said Javen.
The Partnership also distributed 125-balls to students at 28th Street Elementary in Gulfport.
"We target elementary-age students to also help with the adult obesity epidemic that's going on. So you instill those lessons now so when they get older, they'll be able to make more mindful choices. Hopefully, down the road when they're older, they'll be able to instill it in younger generations behind them," said Boguslawski.
The "Just Have a Ball" program was started by two Jackson children more than four years ago. Wilson and Hartwell Furr collected balls to donate to disadvantaged children. The program grew so large, the brother and sister turned it over to the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi.
So far, the organization has given away about 18,000 balls to children across Mississippi. The goal is to give away 20,013 balls by the end of this school year.