As a young girl growing up in Vaughan, Mississippi, Yvonne Sanders — Butler loved the sweet, delectable desserts she helped her mother prepare. But overindulging her appetite led to weight issues at a young age and to obesity in adulthood. In 1996, a near — death experience caused by hypertension showed Sanders — Butler, who weighed 189 pounds at just 5 feet 4 inches, that a change was necessary.
With healthier eating, exercising, and joining Overeaters Anonymous (www. oa.org), Sanders — Butler, a borderline diabetic, took control of her life. In six months she lost 50 pounds and got her blood pressure to a healthy 120/72. She also became more educated about what it takes to lead a healthy life and made it her life mission to pass that knowledge on to others.
In 1999, Sanders — Butler set a precedent as principal of Browns Mill Elementary School in Lithonia, Georgia, spearheading a program making the elementary school the first sugar — free school in the nation.
“I saw children struggling with the same weight problems I had [and] I believe it was due to their steady diet of high sugar and high fat foods with little or no exercise,” says the 49 — year — old. “As the school leader, I felt compelled to act.”
Baked foods, steamed vegetables, fresh fruits, wheat rolls, and soy or low — fat milk are typical items offered during lunch at Browns Mill. All soda machines were replaced with with ones offering bottled water and natural juices. The fitness curriculum was revamped not only for the students but for the teachers and staff too. Besides courses such as step aerobics, yoga, and dance for students, faculty and staff participate in before — and after — school exercises, which include treadmills and weightlifting.
“Educating students, parents, and staff about the importance of nutrition and fitness was to our advantage,” says Sanders — Butler, who also worked with parents to provide their families with healthier eating options at home. “[This] helped to not only modify behavior of our students, but it also contributed to a reduction in nurse referrals, a drop in discipline problems, and higher test scores.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, only 2% of America’s children meet all the recommendations of the Food Guide Pyramid. Sixteen percent do not meet any. Sanders — Butler says 17.6% of African American boys and 22.1% of African American girls are overweight or obese, compared with 11.9% of white boys and 12% of white girls.
Going beyond the school’s makeover, in 2005, Sanders — Butler founded Ennovy Inc. (www.ennovyinc.com). The intervention initiative provides “sound nutrition and fitness practices, behavioral influence techniques, and project management disciplines to help organizations assess and better manage wellness,” says Sanders — Butler.
“Obesity predisposes a person for so many debilitating, catastrophic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and cancer,” says Lorine Phillips Bizzell, a registered dietician for Ennovy. “Yvonne Sanders — Butler was brave enough to tackle the nutrition and physical activity head — on. Everyone, including the family, has a role in shaping healthier eating habits.”
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