Tucked away among the bright green rolling, cartoon hills of â€œHealthadelphiaâ€ 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 Movinâ€™ 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 CSUâ€™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 Agricultureâ€™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.
â€œWe develop our eating habits in the first six years of life so itâ€™s important to introduce healthy eating at a young age,â€ 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.
â€œOur data indicates that over 90 percent are trying new foods by the end of the program,â€ 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 Movinâ€™ with Mighty Moves has been going on since 2007.
â€œWith Mighty Moves, weâ€™re trying to establish comfort and confidence in the way they move to ensure that theyâ€™ll be more active into adulthood,â€ 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 Preventionâ€™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.
â€œThis is a good time to intervene and give them (children) the opportunity to become comfortable trying new foods,â€ Keigan said. â€œI had the experience of using the program in my classroom and I saw really great results with the kids.â€
As for the future of the Food Friends, itâ€™s as bright as the colorful land of â€œHealthadelphia.â€
â€œIâ€™m just excited to see that this research based curriculum is getting out,â€ said Linda M. Carlson, the director of CSUâ€™s Early Childood Center. â€œTeachers are embracing any curriculum they can to help keep children active.â€
City Council beat reporter Erin Udell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want to know more?
- Visit www.foodfriends.org to learn about the program or purchase curriculum.