Nov 172003
 
Authors: Karthika Muthukumaraswamy

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

chocolate.

They read food labels and compare calorie content in different

foods also.

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

experiments.

“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

choice.”

Obesity and diabetes are currently posing huge problems in the

United States.

“(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

questionnaires.

“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

children.

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.”

 

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