The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


Eating right: Elementary students take launch test to evaluate their lunch

Chris Beattie/Staff Photo - Burks Elementary third-grader Reece goes over his answers to the NutriGram assessment test Friday at school. The McKinney school was one of only 14 schools in Texas that participated in The Cooper Institute pilot program, which teaches kids about healthy eating.

 By Chris Beattie,

Published: Saturday, May 14, 2011 1:45 AM CDT

Some kids cringe when they hear the words "nutritious" and "healthy." Students at Burks Elementary School in McKinney welcome the phrases with open minds --- and brown paper bags.

"They all have a healthy competition," said Karin Klemm, physical education teacher at Burks. "They want me to come look and see what their snacks are and see what they're eating for lunch. They're very proud of themselves."

Kids in grades 3-5 had that pride tested all week. They joined elementary students from only 13 other schools across Texas to participate in the NutriGram pilot program.


The Cooper Institute (CI), a 501(c)(3) organization, created the program as a fun way for young kids to test their nutrition knowledge. It selected Burks Elementary as a pilot participant in May 2010, eager to see at the end of this year how much the students knew about nutrition.

Though the NutriGram test walked students through some questions with nutrient information, much of it depended on them. It told them whether their answers were right, after which the students printed off the results for a little show-and-tell at home.

Bella, a third-grader at Burks, had nothing to fear before or after the program.

"It was fun, but it was easy for me," she said. "Coach Klemm always tells us what stuff is healthy and what's not, so it was really easy."

Klemm's persistent nutritional lessons in PE class already paid off weeks ago. The elementary was one of nine schools nationwide honored in April as a Healthy Zone School. The award simply reinforced what Klemm teaches her kids every day.

"I have an extreme passion for teaching kids and adults how to eat better and how to live a healthier lifestyle," she said. "I think it really should be the foundation for our classrooms. If you don't eat right, you're not going to feel right, and if you don't feel right, you're not going to be able to learn."

And according to Dr. Kenneth Cooper, CI founder, American kids are not eating right. He said that Texas ranks seventh in the nation for having the highest youth obesity rates.

The CI started Fitness Gram in 1982 to encourage kids to exercise more, but Cooper said many schools had shown little improvement in overall health. Burks Elementary has participated in the mandatory Fitness Gram since 2007. It measures students' flexibility and endurance as well as their height and weight.

Results from recent years proved Cooper's assessment dead-on.

"Last year, our fitness upper-body scores were way low," Klemm said. "And it wasn't just in McKinney but in the whole state. So this year, every tag game they played, they had to go to the middle and do 10 good push-ups."

Klemm said that kids' eating habits also must improve.

"I think more PE teachers should teach more on nutrition, instead of all physical education," she said. "There has to be a good combination of both. One without the other doesn't really work."

Her students are certainly making Klemm proud. Bella stressed her love for green foods, ones that didn't include Jello or Laffy Taffy.

"I love spinach," Bella said. "I know that's weird, but I really like it."

Cooper said that the nutritional solution doesn't involve simply removing vending machines out of schools. Kids must learn how to eat healthier, for reasons other than looking and breathing right.

"It has to be a combined approach," he said. "Children who exercise and eat better make better grades. It's kind of like one plus one equals three."