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Youngsters watching their steps in the fight against fat

Pedometers help students at Valley schools track their daily walking.

September 26, 2008|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

Second-grader Freddie Sotelo stepped forward Thursday in the fight against fat.

The 7-year-old from Sylmar clipped a pedometer to his waist and joined 500 other students at Knollwood Elementary School in trying to walk at least 10,000 steps a day.

That's what it takes to have an active lifestyle, according to YMCA officials who are staging a nationwide fitness campaign aimed at logging 10 billion steps this week.

"I've taken 1,549 steps since this morning," Freddie said, studying the device's digital readout. "You can't cheat. You shake it and it gets confused and stops counting."

Freddie is a trim 102 pounds. But he said he used to weigh 130 before he cut back on junk food and stepped up his exercising.

"I used to be fatter than a watermelon," he confided.

Youngsters in the Granada Hills schoolyard were excited by their pedometers as they marched around the playground and compared step-count totals.

Nine-year-old Samantha Garcia seemed to be in the lead: The counter clipped to her tennis shoe read 25,635 steps. That's because its reset button was broken. "My button fell off two days ago, so I can't set it every day," the fourth-grader from Granada Hills told classmates.

Ariana Olvera, 7, her left leg in an autograph-decorated cast, was wiggling her good foot to rack up "steps" on her counter as friend Janice Gonzalez, 6, pushed her across the playground in a wheelchair. She broke her left leg six weeks ago when she turned too fast while riding her scooter, said Ariana, a first-grader from San Fernando.

"I tap my foot when I ride," she said, pointing to the wheelchair footrest and the pedometer attached to her right shoe. Its reading was 535. Janice, a first-grader from Granada Hills, was apparently getting the duo's most exercise: Her step counter read 756.

The $2 pedometers, donated by State Farm Insurance and distributed by the North Valley Family YMCA, are being used this week by about 8,000 children at 14 San Fernando Valley schools, said Mac Johnston. She oversees area children's centers for the YMCA.

"The kids are tough on the pedometers," Johnston acknowledged. It appeared that most youngsters average about 4,000 steps a day, far short of this week's daily goal. A person taking fewer than 5,000 steps a day is considered by some experts to have an inactive lifestyle.

"A lack of activity can lead to lifelong health problems," Johnston said.

Principal Barbara Cohen said the school's classrooms are keeping daily tallies of the kids' steps. The class with the highest total will win a swim party at the YMCA's pool in Northridge, she said.

But she was cautioning Knollwood's students not to overdo it Thursday.

"Guys, we're walking, not running!" she yelled at a group of fourth-graders racing down the jogging track painted on the school's asphalt playground. There, the temperature was edging toward 100.

"It's too hot today for that."

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bob.pool@latimes.com

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