Nearly half of the fourth- and fifth-grade students in the Beverly Hills Unified School District were given blood tests last week in a pilot health program that teaches them how to take better care of their bodies.
School officials told the Board of Education Tuesday night that the blood test, the most controversial element of the Neil Konheim "Know Your Body" Program, was conducted without any problems. Out of 536 eligible fourth- and fifth-grade students, 254 took part in the voluntary examination.
"We are very pleased it has reached the level of acceptance that it has," said Carol Katzman, one of the project coordinators.
Katzman said that only three students who signed up for the program refused to take the test at the last minute. "We had more children refuse to have their weight taken than that," she said.
The blood testing was delayed last year by school officials when parents and board members questioned whether the voluntary tests would violate the rights of the children.
The tests were permitted after a special consent form was designed requiring both the parents' and child's signature. Mark Egerman, one of the school board members who questioned the tests, said, "Everything I have heard about it indicates that the tests seem to be going very smoothly."
The fingertip blood tests measure cholesterol, sugar and iron levels in the blood. Nurses and technicians used a device called an autolet to take the samples relatively painlessly. Katzman said it took eight days to test of all the fourth- and fifth-graders. She said she plans to test sixth- and seventh-graders in May.
"It was great," said Justin Gunn, a fifth-grader at Beverly Vista. "It was a little scary at first, but the test went so fast and it didn't hurt at all."
The information obtained from the tests will be evaluated by UCLA and listed in a health profile to be returned to the students. The profile will also include blood pressure, height, weight, cardiovascular fitness and percentage of body fat.
Katzman said the testing will be done for three years at a cost of nearly $100,000 a year. The tests were developed by Dr. Ernst Wynder, president of the New-York based American Health Foundation, and are administered with the help of UCLA's Center for Health Enhancement.
The Neil Konheim "Know Your Body" Program, named after the late son of philanthropist George Konheim, who is financing it, is also designed to teach students how avoid drugs, alcohol and cigarettes. Children are given special instructional material emphasizing the need for greater concern for their diet.
The most popular aspect of the program has been the change in school cafeterias. Plants have been placed on each dining table. Posters promoting good nutrition have been hung on the walls. Music is piped in. The cafeteria menus have been changed to include more nutritious foods, and a salad bar has been added.
"The salad bar is the big hit," said Art Fields, principal at Horace Mann. Fields said the program has been "an uplifting experience for the children."
"They have learned about the need for better eating habits, the kinds of food they ought to be eating."
Nancy Wolf, another program coordinator, said the program teaches the children that they "need to know how to monitor their health even though they are children."