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Red Pine fair will offer tips on healthy living

Eating well and exercising is quickly becoming a way of life at Red Pine Elementary School, and the school would like the entire community to get in on the act.

On May 1 Red Pine will hold a family health and fitness fair that will feature more than 30 health- and fitness-focused vendors, children's activities and prize giveaways. It will also feature a two-mile walk -- held four times during the event -- that will bring participants from the school's campus through Rosemount, Inver Grove Heights and Eagan. Local police departments will be on hand to help keep walkers safe.

The event was put together by the school's health and wellness committee, a group that formed in 2007 after Red Pine started stepping up efforts to encourage kids to walk or bike to school. It is funded by a $1,000 grant from the Dakota County Public Health Department.

Red Pine principal Gary Anger called the event the culmination of efforts that have also included schoolwide cross country ski outings and summer activity cards that got students discounts on activities that would get them up and moving while they were away from school.

Saturday's fair will include representatives from the American Heart Association, the YMCA and District 196 Food and Nutrition Services, among others. There will be information from life coaches and yoga, and kids will have a chance to play the video game Dance Dance Revolution with their friends and maybe even their parents.

"Most of the things are targeted at families," Anger said. "It's going to be just a really fun variety of activities."

There will be a number of activities for kids, including inflatable jumpers and a climbing wall.

Helping kids eat better and getting them active has taken on increased importance in recent years thanks to concerns about childhood obesity. First Lady Michelle Obama has spoken out regularly about the subject and has made fighting obesity one of her priorities.

But Red Pine has long had a reputation for helping kids be more active. The school pioneered Safe Route to School efforts in District 196 to give students better options for skipping the school bus. An annual walk to school day has become a big event at Red Pine and has spread to other Rosemount area schools. Last year, both Shannon Park and Rosemount elementary schools participated.

Anger said the number of students walking or biking to school has increased by 30 percent over the past three years at Red Pine.

Red Pine and Rosemount Elementary schools were the first schools in District 196 to ask parents not to send cake or other sweet treats for their child's birthday.

"The ball has just kind of rolled and rolled," Anger said. "We've really been looked to by other communities that are asking us, 'What are some of the things you're doing?' It's really fun to be a part of this."