Just a few years ago, the P.E. facilities at the Alliance Renee & Meyer Luskin Academy High School consisted of a dirt field and half a basketball court. Today, the South Los Angeles school houses a state-of-the-art fitness center with eight spin bikes, six elliptical machines, multiple upper and lower body machines, weights and more.
Luskin Academy is one of 95 schools in the L.A. Unified School District (LAUSD) benefiting from the Sound Body Sound Mind Foundation, whose mission is to combat childhood obesity. The group has made a $3-million pledge to partner with UCLA Health System, forming UCLA Health Sound Body Sound Mind.
“Childhood obesity is particularly acute in low-income, high-minority communities that regularly lack safe outdoor space and recreational facilities,” says Bill Simon, a co-founder of the Sound Body Sound Mind Foundation. “This collaboration will allow us to expand our impact.”
The L.A. County Department of Public Health found that 42 percent of U.S. kids are overweight. And the Children’s Defense Fund found that adolescents in low-income neighborhoods are nine times more likely to be overweight than those in more affluent areas.
Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, associate dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, examined five inner-city schools and found that after the Sound Body Sound Mind curriculum was implemented, the percentage of students who passed the Fitnessgram test that measures youth physical fitness tripled, exceeding LAUSD and state averages.
“It didn’t just better their bodies; it affected their minds, building self-esteem and confidence,” she says.
UCLA Health Sound Body Sound Mind plans fitness centers at seven other LAUSD schools “to get the kids so engaged in fitness that it will become part of their life,” says David Feinberg, former CEO of the UCLA Hospital System and a member of the advisory board for Sound Body Sound Mind. “We will see a decline in obesity and an improvement in physical fitness, and that’s related to improvement in school performance, which then means your whole life is better.”