Yuma teacher’s ‘heart’ in running off diabetes

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YUMA, Ariz. (AP) – Although he wears a silly costume, Tom Vosberg seriously takes to heart keeping students physically fit.

That is why Vosberg created “Dr. Lubb Dubb’s Healthy Heart Running Club.” As the character Dr. Lubb Dubb, named for the sound of a beating heart, Vosberg dresses in an oversized foam heart mask with a heart-shaped stethoscope and a white dressing gown sporting the Lubb Dubb logo.

But it is this outlandish gear that helps transform the chore of running laps into fun for the kindergarten students at San Pasqual Elementary School.

From Monday through Friday at half past noon, 66 kindergarten students from three classes run laps in an aerobic conditioning exercise Vosberg designed as part of the Special Diabetes Program aimed at preventing the disease.

“Children were not meant to sit all day,” Vosberg said. “Kids need to have physical education five times a week but it’s not happening because of budget constraints.”

At San Pasqual, students only have PE classes twice a week. But since October, Vosberg supplements their physical activity with a daily run around a track for 10 minutes. It is a 110-yard track and the goal is to complete 16 laps or one mile. Most finish about eight laps.

But to keep students pumped up, there are all sorts of rewards. After each lap, students get a stamped Popsicle stick to help track distance.

For those accumulating 10 miles, students get a canvas coloring chart with the Dr. Lubb Dubb logo to mark their miles. At 20 miles, students get a gold star medal, at 30 miles a ribbon, 40 miles a gold heart, and at 50 miles they receive a T-shirt.

For the previous three years, Vosberg had a grant from the Centers of Disease Control to implement his program on the Tohono O’odham Nation in Sells, near Tucson. After the grant expired, Vosberg found his way to San Pasqual and the Quechan Tribe.

Diabetes rates, on the rise for the entire nation, can be particularly problematic for Native Americans who often do not have the resources to fund a full complement of fitness programs in their community, Vosberg said.

But to combat the prevalence of diabetes for the past 12 years, the federal government has supported the Special Diabetes Project through IHS, said Lisa Ball, project director.

In addition to the kindergartners’ daily run, nearly 80 first through fifth grade students take a morning 10-minute run, on a volunteer basis. There are actually two areas of the diabetes prevention project, Ball said.

The first is a prevention module held in preschool through 12th grade classes in tribal schools. One day each week students are taught a nationally accredited curriculum of how to live a healthy lifestyle, she said.

“Out in the Native American areas, it’s not a question of if they get diabetes but when. But we’re trying to change that thinking to the assumption it doesn’t have to be that way.”

The second part of prevention occurs at the Wellness Center just a mile from San Pasqual. It is a 2,500-square-foot gym where students work out with individual trainers.

The Wellness Center also organizes regular events to help the Quechan stay fit. Started this month is the “New Year/New You” body fat challenge. It is a three-month contest to lose weight where trainers record participants’ measurements and track their progress to success.

Ball said according to CDC statistics, between 1976 and 2006 obesity rates were on the rise for all children. For those ages 2 to 5, it went from 5 to 12.4 percent, for ages 6 to 11, from 6.5 to 17 percent, while for ages 12 to 19, from 5 to 17.6 percent.

Ball said the extra exercise children get in the program keeps them more active than they could be on their own.

“The Quechan tribal council has been very proactive in fighting diabetes. They have begun implementing education programs and a healthier life style.”

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