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Students learn to make choices in the "Maze of Life"

RUIDOSO, N.M. - Life is all about making choices, and students in Lincoln County learned recently the positive and negative consequences of those choices as they wove their way through the "Maze of Life."

Rylan Vega tries to twirl a hula hoop while wearing a weighted bodysuit to get a feel for how difficult it can be to do physical activity when one is obese. Vega was part of a group of eighth-grade students in Ruidoso who attended Maze of Life, an event geared to show young people the consequences and rewards of different lifestyle choices. (NMSU photo by Audry Olmsted)

"The goal of this event was to help kids learn how to make good choices and good decisions, and understand the consequences of bad decisions," said Nancy LaPointe, coordinator for the Ruidoso Community Health Council.

Sponsored by the health council, the "Maze of Life" gave middle-school students many opportunities to confront sometimes difficult choices and then "live" with the consequences. New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service was at the two-day event April 21-22 to help the children make healthy choices when it comes to exercise and eating food.

Marsha Palmer, Extension home economics agent, had the eighth-grade students try to hula hoop while dressed in a weighted body suit and also perform jumping jacks while holding 10-pound sacks of potatoes to help them understand how difficult it can be to move around if overweight. The students also studied sugar models to visualize how much of the sweet substance is in the foods they eat, such as sodas and candy bars, learned about the fat content in different foods and also shot hoops to earn positive and negative consequences for their lifestyle choices.

"At our booth, we wanted the kids to make healthy choices when they are choosing something to eat or drink," Palmer said. "We want them to choose fruit juice or water instead of drinks that are high in caffeine or sugar. There are better choices to make."

Palmer also talked with the students about the long-term consequences of making bad eating and exercise choices, such as an increased risk of diabetes or having a heart attack.

"I think it was enlightening for the kids, like a light bulb going on," she said. "They were realizing that there are consequences when they make choices. Sometimes they are positive consequences and sometimes they are negative, depending on which way they go."

Members of the health council set up various interactive booths at the event all aimed at helping students make appropriate life decisions, from riding a tricycle through an obstacle course while wearing "drunk goggles," to appearing before a judge for a mock drunk-driving charge and learning about the high costs of car insurance if they cause a car crash.