MiddleSchoolPortal/Health Rules: Fitness and Nutrition for Kids

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<metadescription content="This free, standards-based online publication developed for middle school science teachers explores the topic of health, fitness and nutrition by linking to and describing inquiry-based lessons and activities." />

Methods of Science - Introduction

Developing sound nutritional and exercise habits early in life will help children become healthy adults. This is one of the most important life skills that we can teach our middle school students. But, just how can we help students in our science classes understand exactly what we mean when we say "take care" of their bodies?

In this publication, you will find web sites that provide general background information for teachers on nutrition and fitness, as well as lesson plans and activities for use in the classroom. Students will enjoy and learn from the activities we've included on health, fitness, nutrition, and sports that will reinforce good habits and help students to learn to take care of themselves.

In addition to looking at how we can help children to establish good habits, you will find web sites that look at the health issues facing preteens and teenagers today. How many kids need help evaluating their diets and taking a good look at their food consumption? Most likely all of them. With this in mind, there will be many opportunities to examine current guidelines for a healthy diet and to discuss the impact weight gain has on the body image of young people.



Because keeping healthy involves more than diet, we have included informational web sites on fitness and sports just for kids. Active middle schoolers involved in sports already know the importance and benefits of exercise. For those who that aren't as motivated to keep active, there are web sites that will help them establish and implement exercise routines.

Be sure to see the section on helpful tools. Here you will find downloadable charts, logs, graphs, and all manner of calculators so your students can keep on top of their new health regimen. Students can learn to calculate their body mass index, compare their weight to others with similar measurements, and read the nutrition label on their favorite snack food. When students see their progress charted daily and weekly, it will be much easier to stay motivated, keep up their exercise, watch their calorie intake, and become more aware of the kinds of snacks they reach for when they are in a hurry, bored, or making choices at the store or in the cafeteria line.

Background Information for Teachers

1460 You may be wondering what the most effective approach to teaching this important topic is. The NSDL Strand Map Service provides guidance. These maps illustrate connections between concepts and across grade levels. An image of the middle grades (6-8) only part of the Maintaining Good Health map appears below. This is one of seven maps under the heading The Human Organism. Clicking on a concept within the maps will show NSDL resources relevant to the concept, as well as information about related AAAS Project 2061 Benchmarks and National Science Education Standards. Move the pink box in the lower right hand corner of the page to see the grades 6-8 learning goals.

Maintaining Good Health

View individual map Printable view of map

These web sites offer general information on health, fitness, and nutrition. All include links to more sites with the information you need to engage middle school students in a topic. Some of the resources may also be of interest to other educators, coaches, and parents.

Food and Nutrition Information Center From the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Information Center, this web site is full of links to nutrition resources, such as subject- and grade-specific bibliographies, databases, and lesson plans. Need current information on the food pyramid, or ideas for food-related science fair projects? You'll find the resources you need at this site.

President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports You may remember going through the activities and tests provided by the President's Council when you were in gym class. This is the site for information about the President's Challenge as well as resources about health, physical activity, and fitness and sports. You can also access public service videos promoting exercise and nutrition.

The Healthy Refrigerator This web site tells us how to stock our refrigerators with good nutrition choices for the whole family. The site is divided into four sections: The Healthy Fridge, Good Nutrition, Heart of the Matter, and Just for Kids. There's a list of 10 tips for maintaining a heart-healthy refrigerator. Enjoy your visit to this site and do a makeover on your own refrigerator!

Shape Up America! Healthy Weight for Life Shape Up America! is a not-for-profit organization committed to raising awareness of obesity as a health issue. This site provides information about safe weight management, healthy eating, increased activity, and physical fitness. A pediatric BMI (Body Mass Index) assessment tool calculates BMI and plots BMI percentile on growth charts for children and teenagers. Teachers and coaches will find several physical fitness tests in the fitness center. Although this site was originally designed with moms in mind, it has evolved into a resource for all parents, as well as coaches and others working with young people. The site provides informative articles on kids who participate in sports. Users may select a particular sport and read articles pertaining to that sport, or select articles simply by age groups from under five to 14-18 years. The articles cover the usual topics such as nutrition, sports psychology, product recalls, and equipment. However, the most important articles may be the ones for parents on winning and losing, talking to the team coach, interacting with referees, and the like. Coaches may wish to direct parents to the site.

You may also be interested in What's Making You Sick?another MSP2 Resource Guide.

Lesson Plans and Teaching Activities

From the myriad of web sites about health, fitness and nutrition, we have gathered up-to-date and trustworthy materials suitable for middle school classes. Have your students take a look at food serving sizes and the nutritional benefits we obtain from including fruits in our diets via lesson plans from the New York Times library. We've also located a classroom resource from PBS that puts the student in the coach's shoes and a site from that looks in-depth at the topics of hormones, sweat, and nutrition.

Rounding out this section are interactive approaches to raising kids' awareness of health issues and ways to make their bodies and minds stronger. Click on the Pizza Explorer where students can learn about food processing, food chemistry and the nutritional composition of this favorite food. Use the cal-o-meter and the sat-fat-o-meter on or read the latest excerpt from the Plastic Food Diaries to discover other facts about the foods we eat.

The New York Times Daily Lesson Plan: Sizing up Servings This lesson plan helps students understand the definition of suggested serving sizes and examine their daily food intake in terms of these sizes. An article on the topic and a set of classroom activities form the basis of the one-hour lesson. The site also offers homework ideas, links to web resources, vocabulary words, extension activities, and more.

The New York Times Daily Lesson Plan: Fruitful Questions This one-hour lesson is inspired by a New York Times Q & A science article on the nutritional qualities of dried and fresh fruits. In addition to discussing the nutritional values of fruit, students are asked to develop their own food science-related questions and answers, using the article as a model. The web site includes academic content standards and concise sections that address objectives, evaluation, extension, and interdisciplinary activities.

Quests for Better Health In these web quests for grades 6-12, students use the Internet and other resources to research and learn more about three health topics: hormones, sweat, and nutrition. The teacher can assign a specific quest or have the students choose the one that interests them most. Each quest provides links to web sites on each topic, followed by questions for students to investigate.

You Be the Coach This lesson plan from In the Mix, the award-winning PBS TV series for teens, will get your students interested and motivated with its hot-topic approach. In a two-day lesson for grades 7-12, students form small groups based upon their mutual interest in a sport. Students investigate the coaching of the sport by reading about the sport in books or magazines, viewing televised or video sports programs, searching the Internet for web sites on sports and youth, interviewing local high school, college, or recreation program coaches, or viewing the sport in person. Students outline or diagram how to teach the specific skills for their sport, and then demonstrate the skills to the class, using classmates as active participants. Students will discuss reasons why sports, athletics or physical activities should be an important part of teens' lives.

Plastic Fork Diaries This site uses a diary/journal format set at a fictional school to introduce issues surrounding food, proper nutrition, eating disorders, and other related topics. The site invites students to follow six middle school students as they experience firsthand the relationship between food and their changing bodies, cultural differences, the vanishing family meal, and nutrition and athletic performance. The site provides additional information on topics covered in the diaries, including helpful links, background information, healthy recipes, and a message board for teens to sound off on related topics that concern them. A teacher's guide has been created as a companion to the site.

BAM! Body and Mind: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention This site focuses on topics that kids, ages nine to 13, said were important to them, such as stress and physical fitness, and uses kid-friendly lingo, games, quizzes, and other interactive features. Topics covered include nutrition and fitness, disease, mental health, peer pressure, and relationships. Students and teachers can benefit from interactive features such as activity cards and online quizzes that utilize colorful graphics. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocate for food safety and nutrition, sponsors this site. Users will find loads of fun and informative features, such as Choose Ur Chews, where users select fast food and snack items from different categories to see how they measure up on the cal-o-meter and the sat-fat-o-meter. Pop-up Snacktoids give quick info bites that might surprise you. Articles and recipes, video clips, and interactive games round out the site.

Tools for Tracking Nutrition and Fitness Goals

This section contains tools to help students keep track of their health, fitness, and nutrition goals. Some of these web sites are set up to help users research proper nutrition and healthy lifestyles.

Here's an idea: Start out by having your classes test their knowledge about their food choices for each meal and then create a daily food record. After a short quiz on matching food products to ingredients, have students answer questions about what the nutritional values in foods mean. Next, have students calculate calories and protein in their diets and compare daily totals with the suggested minimum requirements for their age groups. This is often an eye-opening activity, even for adults!

It is possible that this exercise may open up discussion on how teens' perception of body image can lead to eating disorders. Finally, encourage your students to keep food and exercise logs over a period of time to see their new habits become part of a healthy lifestyle.

Healthy Body Calculator A feature of the Ask the Dietitian web site, this calculator requires an individual's age, gender, weight, height, level of activity, and hours of sleep to generate a health profile. An explanation is provided for each evaluation along with the number of calories and nutrients needed each day for good health.

Calorie Control Council This site has a lot of basic information related to health and nutrition. In addition to articles there are several calculators with which users can measure calorie intake, body mass index, and calories used in activities. All are set up to give immediate feedback and analysis. Middle and high school health classes will find information on cutting calories and fat in the diet, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, and determining the nutritional content of low-calorie, reduced-fat foods and beverages.

[ Stress-O-Meter] Most kids in middle school do not realize that their mental health needs as much nourishment as their physical health. Stressful situations can affect performance at school, relationships with others, and success in sports. Students can check their stress levels with the brief quiz called the Stress-O-Meter.

Just for Kids

Have a bit of fun with fitness, health, and sports at these web sites just for kids. Every site is filled with groovy graphics, challenging games, videos, news about sport stars or teams, and loads of good information…all disguised as fun.

These sites use the latest interactive features to get your students into the content by becoming a nutrition sleuth, planning a pregame meal, or competing in a rock climbing challenge. At other sites, students will find Sport Illustrated for Kids online, create an action game to play online or outside, or watch sports pros showing how to head a soccer ball or spiral a football.

Exploratorium: Sport Science Young people can learn about the science behind a home run, find out how the physics of balance helps enthusiasts surf the waves, and discover the principles of momentum, gravity, friction, and centripetal force in skateboarding. The site is equipped with interviews, enticing images, sports Q & As, and enthralling descriptions. Interesting articles cover sports topics such as fitness challenges for climbers and the way balls bounce. With these inventive tutorials, students may become enthused about physics.

Sports and Nutrition: The Winning Connection This site is aimed at people who want to achieve peak sports performance through proper nutrition and hydration. The four sections cover diet, energy, fluids and pregame meals. Although the site is primarily text, it is written in an informative manner and is divided into topics that are appropriate for all ages.

Nutrition Café Using the Flash Player, the site provides three games and nutritional information in a colorful and pleasing package. The games are easy to learn yet provide a good amount of information. Players of Nutrition Sleuth help victims locate missing nutrients, while players must choose the correct question in Grab a Grape. At Have a Bite Café kids may get a surprise when they see the nutritional and caloric breakdown of the meal they select. The site includes a nutrition glossary, a food pyramid, and dietary guidelines.

Extreme Adventure Do you have what it takes to win the ultimate race? Find out with the TryScience Extreme Challenge! Compete on seven courses in four sports: mountain biking, kayaking, rock climbing, and snowboarding. Users must train and apply the science behind the sport to beat the challenge time and earn a medal. Combining exciting sound with video, this site will be a challenge for age ten and older.

SMARTR: Virtual Learning Experiences for Students

Visit our student site SMARTR to find related science-focused virtual learning experiences for your students! The SMARTR learning experiences were designed both for and by middle school aged students. Students from around the country participated in every stage of SMARTR’s development and each of the learning experiences includes multimedia content including videos, simulations, games and virtual activities.


The FunWorks Visit the FunWorks STEM career website for youth to learn more about a variety of science-related careers in Sports and Medicine (click on the respective bubbles).

National Science Education Standards

These excerpts from the National Science Education Standards relate to the study of science in personal and social perspectives in middle school.

Content Standard F:

As a result of activities in grades 5-8, all students should develop understanding of

  • Personal health

Due to their developmental levels and expanded understanding, students in grades 5-8 can undertake sophisticated study of personal and societal challenges. Building on the foundation established in grades K-4, students can expand their study of health and establish linkages among populations, resources, and environments; they can develop an understanding of natural hazards, the role of technology in relation to personal and societal issues, and learn about risks and personal decisions.

The study of science-related personal and societal challenges is an important endeavor for science education at the middle level. By middle school, students begin to realize that illness can be caused by various factors, such as microorganisms, genetic predispositions, malfunctioning of organs and organ-systems, health habits, and environmental conditions. Students in grades 5-8 tend to focus on physical more than mental health. They associate health with food and fitness more than with other factors such as safety and substance use. One very important issue for teachers in grades 5-8 is overcoming students' perceptions that most factors related to health are beyond their control.

Students often have the vocabulary for many aspects of health, but they often do not understand the science related to the terminology. Developing a scientific understanding of health is a focus of this standard. Healthy behaviors and other aspects of health education are introduced in other parts of school programs. Guide to the Content Standard

Fundamental concepts and principles that underlie this standard include:

Personal Health

  • Regular exercise is important to the maintenance and improvement of health. The benefits of physical fitness include maintaining healthy weight, having energy and strength for routine activities, good muscle tone, bone strength, strong heart/lung systems, and improved mental health. Personal exercise, especially developing cardiovascular endurance, is the foundation of physical fitness.
  • Food provides energy and nutrients for growth and development. Nutrition requirements vary with body weight, age, sex, activity, and body functioning.

Read the entire National Science Education Standards online for free or register to download the free PDF. The content standards are found in Chapter 6.

Author and Copyright

Janet Kahkonen Keppler was a consultant to the Middle School Portal project.

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Copyright September 2006 - The Ohio State University. Last updated September 19, 2010. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0424671 and since September 1, 2009 Grant No. 0840824. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.