Like most third graders, more than half the kids at Putnam
Elementary School prefer chocolates to apple slices.
What they do differently, however, is take 600 extra steps, with
the help of step counters, to burn off the extra calories from the
They read food labels and compare calorie content in different
They calculate their body mass index (BMI) and listen to their
heartbeat with stethoscopes.
Every Friday, second, third and fourth graders at Putnam spend
one hour in the classroom and 40 minutes in exercise with the
“Green Team” from CSU.
“There is no doubt that they enjoy the project. I definitely
believe that we are making a big difference,” said Emily Montoya, a
spring CSU graduate and member of the program at Putnam. “The
minute we walk into school there is a smile and they say ‘hi.'”
Montoya is just one of many green T-shirt-clad CSU students in
the innovative effort to prevent childhood obesity.
Program Energy, hosted by Professor Arthur Campfield and
research scientist Francoise Smith with the Department of Food,
Science and Human Nutrition at CSU is funded by the National Center
for Research Resources and the National Institutes of Health.
The program teaches kids the relationship between calories
consumed and energy expended through hands-on scientific
“We are trying to actually help them learn what choice is the
healthy choice,” Campfield said. “So, when they have a choice about
what to eat, vegetables or French fries, or how much to eat, super
size or just the right amount, they are going to make the right
Obesity and diabetes are currently posing huge problems in the
“(Childhood obesity) is an epidemic,” Campfield said. “We know
that 62 percent of Americans are obese and at least 25 percent of
the children are. And we have an entirely new disease that we never
saw before in children. Type II diabetes (is one) and most of these
children are obese.”
The focus of the program is to control these problems at an
early age in an attempt to ensure a healthier adult life.
“I think our program is unique,” Campfield said. “It’s because
it is prevention oriented. We are assuming that if we give the kids
the information on how they can have a healthy life, that is to eat
healthy, be active and take care of their bodies, they are going to
be healthier adults.”
The program is aligned with the school curriculum and teachers
ascertain that it’s age-appropriate.
“We try to make it real-life, but we are certainly emphasizing
the concepts,” Campfield said.
Teachers at the school discussed their needs with the
researchers before the program was chalked out.
“It is a continuous feedback communication. It is being
receptive to what their needs are,” Smith said.
The program is made kid-friendly by the introduction of games
and simple scientific experiments. Children are introduced to the
Internet by communication via e-mails and online
“We make it fun by doing hands-on class science about their
body, about nutrition and about the benefits of exercise as well as
scientific careers,” Campfield said.
Putnam Elementary School of Science was chosen because of its 50
percent Hispanic population. Hispanics have a higher risk of
developing Type II diabetes than non-Hispanics.
Campfield said these kids are extremely high-risk because they
come from single-parent homes and families with high numbers of
Seventy percent of the kids are enrolled in the “Free and
reduced Lunch program” at Putnam.
Children at Putnam are routinely monitored, as are kids in the
control school, Harris Bilingual Elementary School.
Researchers have already observed a significant change in the
two and a half years the program has been around.
“The rate of weight gain and the BMI is apparently lower (in
Putnam Elementary),” Campfield said.
Campfield also said he hoped to apply the program to other
schools in the long run, including Harris Bilingual.
“We are using Putnam Elementary as a laboratory; it is a model
program with the idea that it would be disseminated in other
schools,” Campfield said.
The program is also extremely beneficial to the CSU students
involved, Smith said.
“It is a real-life experience for CSU students,” Smith said.
“They see kids who are funny and smart but don’t have much.”
Moreover, CSU students bring much more than scientific knowledge
to the program.
“(The idea is) to learn not only a specific subject, but to have
a role model in the classroom,” Smith said.
Another goal of the program is to kindle the children’s interest
in health and science as a career.
“Importantly, we have opened up possible career choices,”
Campfield said. “This program came out of a unique program at NIH –
biomedical science with K-12 kids to improve the teaching of
science and make them major in science.”
The program helps students at Putnam Elementary understand
healthy living and gives CSU students a learning experience. It
also brings rewards to the founders of the program as well.
“It is a rewarding experience,” Campfield said. “I get so much
out of seeing the kids smile and laugh and I am very lucky to be
able to do this.”