Dec 072010
 
Authors: Erin Udell

Tucked away among the bright green rolling, cartoon hills of “Healthadelphia” live Rudy D. Radish, Gertie Gouda and six other fictional characters based on various food groups.

These animated vegetable, dairy and meat products are all part of The Food Friends: Fun with New Foods program, which encourages pre-school-age children to try new foods through cartoons and interactive games.

The curriculum, in conjunction with The Food Friends: Get Movin’ with Mighty Moves program, has shown success in teaching children healthy eating and exercise skills at a young, more impressionable age.

Recently, Laura Bellows and Jennifer Anderson of CSU’s Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition as well as Patti Davies of the Department of Occupational Therapy received a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to see if preschoolers who participated in these programs maintained their new behaviors as they reached elementary school.

“We develop our eating habits in the first six years of life so it’s important to introduce healthy eating at a young age,” said Bellows, an assistant professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition.

The 12-week program aims to introduce young children to the concept of trying new foods.

The daikon radish, characterized by Rudy D. Radish and gouda cheese, characterized as Gertie Gouda, were two foods that were offered to the children on a regular basis, using puppets and storylines to encourage new eating habits.

“Our data indicates that over 90 percent are trying new foods by the end of the program,” Bellows said.

With the recent passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which will increase access to and quality of meals children receive in school and in child-care settings, a definite recognition of the importance of healthy eating has been sparked in Congress.

Food Friends: Fun with Food is in its 11th year, while Get Movin’ with Mighty Moves has been going on since 2007.

“With Mighty Moves, we’re trying to establish comfort and confidence in the way they move to ensure that they’ll be more active into adulthood,” Bellows said.

According to results from a 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, about 17 percent of children and adolescents ages two to 19 in the US are obese.

This number has more than tripled since 1976, making more children at risk for health problems as adults, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.

As a former teacher in the Poudre School District, Becky Keigan, a Food Friends program coordinator, recruits teachers and trains them how to use the program.

“This is a good time to intervene and give them (children) the opportunity to become comfortable trying new foods,” Keigan said. “I had the experience of using the program in my classroom and I saw really great results with the kids.”

As for the future of the Food Friends, it’s as bright as the colorful land of “Healthadelphia.”

“I’m just excited to see that this research based curriculum is getting out,” said Linda M. Carlson, the director of CSU’s Early Childood Center. “Teachers are embracing any curriculum they can to help keep children active.”

City Council beat reporter Erin Udell can be reached at news@collegian.com.

Want to know more?

  • Visit www.foodfriends.org to learn about the program or purchase curriculum.
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