Press Release

October 5, 2005


Gina Hopper implemented IDPH nutrition and physical education
program at Litchfield School District

LITCHFIELD, Ill – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today named Gina Hopper, curriculum director of the Litchfield School District, as the latest recipient of the People Are Today’s Heroes (PATH) Award for her commitment and dedication to improving the health and wellness of children in the Litchfield School District. Hopper has been instrumental in implementing the CATCH (Coordinated Approach to Child Health) program in the Litchfield School District. The CATCH program is designed to teach and promote healthy lifestyle choices to children and their families.

“Obesity has become an epidemic among children,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “The CATCH program, and people like Gina Hopper, are trying to improve the health of our children by teaching them how to eat healthier and to exercise. Gina truly is one of today’s heroes for recognizing the importance of addressing these issues at an early age and for implementing the CATCH program throughout Litchfield schools.”

The Governor’s PATH Award recognizes groups or individuals who, through their hard work and commitment, have improved the lives of those in their community and have helped Illinois move forward in the areas of health care, public safety, education or economic development. Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, state public health director, presented the Governor’s PATH Award to Hopper at Litchfield Middle School.

“Gina Hopper is doing vital work by ensuring that the students are taught at an early age what they need to do for a lifetime of good health,” Dr. Whitaker said. “Under her direction, the students in the Litchfield School District are learning about proper nutrition and fitness – tools that will be essential in helping them grow into healthy adults.”

Dr. Whitaker said the United States is in the midst of a twin epidemic of childhood obesity and type-2 diabetes in children. The latest data from the 1999-2002 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey show that the percent of children who are overweight (defined as Body Mass Index for age at or above the 95th percentile of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention growth charts) continues to increase. Among children and teens ages 6 to 19, 16 percent (more than 9 million) are overweight according to the 1999-2002 data, or triple what the proportion was in 1980. In addition, another 15 percent were considered at risk of becoming overweight (a BMI-for-age between the 85th and 95th percentiles).

CATCH is a multi-component health intervention program, which builds an alliance of parents, teachers, child nutrition personnel, school staff and community partners to teach children and their families how to be healthy throughout their lives. CATCH seeks to reduce cardiovascular disease and type-2 diabetes risk factors. The program reinforces positive healthy behaviors throughout a child’s day and makes it clear that good health and learning go hand in hand. There are 19 schools participating in the program in Illinois.

Litchfield was chosen as one of the six pilot sites for the IDPH CATCH initiative, in part, because of Hopper’s passion for improving the health of the Litchfield school community. Due to funding cuts at the school, the physical education staff had been eliminated. Hopper saw the CATCH program as a way to fill that void and incorporate a coordinated school health curriculum. To further enhance the CATCH program, Hopper applied for the Carol M. White Physical Education Program (PEP) grant, which was successfully funded. The grant allowed Litchfield to expand CATCH and hire three physical educators, one for each elementary building. These three educators teach the CATCH health and physical education curriculums for kindergarten through fifth grade and also support the MAKE IT (May All Kids Excel Into Tomorrow) after school program.

The CATCH initiative, which was launched in January 2004, targets students in third through fifth grade. However, Hopper has expanded the program to also include students in kindergarten, first and second grades.

“Because of Gina Hopper’s tremendous talent and her tenacity in securing grants, Litchfield students have benefited tremendously,” said Sharon Harris Johnson, superintendent of Litchfield Community Unit School District #12. “Mrs. Hopper is tireless in her efforts for the children in our community. She also supports District faculty and staff in their professional development and growth. I am thrilled that she is being honored for these substantial endeavors.”


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Illinois Department of Public Health
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Springfield, Illinois 62761
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