Rate Decline: Kearney, Nebraska

The Kearney school district reported a 13.4% decline in obesity among children in grades K-5 from 2006 to 2011.

In 2005, the Kearney Public Schools district received a $900,000 Carol M. White Physical Education Program Grant, which kick-started some big changes in local schools. Kearney students are now getting more physical activity throughout the entire day:

  • Physical education (PE) classes are scheduled at least every other day (some schools have PE class every day), and PE teachers use the SPARK™ curriculum, which uses evidence-based strategies to help kids get active.
  • In the classroom, teachers conduct short physical activity breaks, such as “Take 10!” and “JAMmin’ Minute.”
  • Recess now includes more opportunities for structured group physical activity games, is not used for punishment and is held indoors during winter months so kids can still be active.
  • Many schools have instituted before- and after-school walking and running clubs.
  • In high schools, gyms are open during lunch for basketball, volleyball or other activities.
  • The district bought play equipment including jump ropes, balls, rubber fitness station mats, scooter boards and Wii gaming stations to enhance physical activity during indoor and outdoor recess.

Lunch time at Buffalo Hills Elementary in Kearney, Nebraska.

Students learn about the importance of a healthy diet at Buffalo Hills Elementary in Kearney, Nebraska.

The Kearney Public Schools Food Department also is making healthy changes:

  • Elementary schools now have fruit and vegetable salad bars, including nutrient-dense options, such as spinach.
  • All meals include more whole grains, all milk is low-fat or fat-free and classroom snacks are healthier.
  • To promote healthier eating in students’ homes, the district has also started hosting special events to teach parents healthy recipes and cooking techniques.

Kearney high school students enjoying an afternoon walk.

Students swinging on the playground during recess at Buffalo Hills Elementary in Kearney, Nebraska.

Outside of the school district, the whole community is becoming invested in creating a Culture of Health. Some of Kearney’s notable initiatives include:

  • Establishing a new downtown farmers’ market;
  • Promoting and expanding community gardens;
  • Improving local parks by creating a new playground, new splash parks and revitalized swimming pools, as well as a hike and bike trail that connects much of the city;
  • Participating in Activate Buffalo County, which leads campaigns to increase physical activity and healthy eating;
  • Partnering with Good Samaritan Hospital and Sentinel Health to support student fitness activities, as well as a local greenhouse that provides healthy “potted gardens” for students’ homes; and
  • Initiating school-based efforts to help students eat healthier and move more.

A teacher shares fruit with students at Buffalo Hills Elementary in Kearney, Nebraska.

Kearney high school students enjoying a healthy lunch.


The Kearney Nebraska Story: BMI Report Card Summary Report 2006-2011. (Available by request.)

Originally posted on July 9, 2013.

Young boy holding plant in a garden

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