It's back-to-school time for thousands of Central Illinois students, their families and teachers, school staff and all who support them in any way.

Children go to school to learn a lot more than reading, writing and math. There are life lessons to be experienced, including how our health plays an integral role in our lives.

In part, that is why state and local laws mandate a variety of tests and vaccinations for children from birth through adulthood: we learn to brush our teeth, wash our hands, cook food thoroughly and get shots to prevent the spread of disease.

Changes in types and grade levels start this year for required immunizations. In addition, children in certain grades must have physical exams and eye and dental exams before heading back to school. Your family doctor and dentist can help schedule what your child needs; if you're unsure, or don't have a medical provider, you can contact your local health department.

But the biggest lesson — one that seems to make headlines about every other day — is one we all need to learn: America is overweight and it's killing us sooner than later.

Generally speaking, we eat too much and exercise too little. To a large degree, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and some cancers can be avoided if we just pay closer attention to better living. We need to eat less and move more.

It's a hard lesson to learn as an adult, but it's a lot easier to teach such good habits to youngsters who don't know there's an alternative.

Enter SPARK.

This week, the McLean County Health Department is hosting an extensive training program for physical education teachers from more than 20 schools.

As explained by department spokeswoman Kera Brossette, the program (Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids) leads kids through moderate to vigorous physical activity during P.E. class and throughout the school day by incorporating physical activity in classroom lessons involving English, language arts and literacy in health and PE. 

Teachers are not the only ones responsible for our children's health and well-being. Parents, neighbors, friends and family all play a role. Static activities (board and computer games, reading) all play a role in growing up, but activities that promote movement like running, jumping, lifting, climbing, and swimming are the ones that will help keep us healthy.

So, eat better and move more. It's a lesson we all need to learn, whether or not we're still in school.

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