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Smart Bodies: Learn early to fight obesity, improve health

Smart Bodies is an educational program aimed at improving children's health and preventing childhood obesity. Smart Bodies is taught in schools across the state and helps children learn how to build strong bodies and develop active minds.

In response to the epidemic increase in childhood obesity, the LSU AgCenter, in partnership with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation, launched the Smart Bodies program in March 2005. Smart Bodies provides comprehensive nutrition education with physical activity for elementary school children – kindergarten through fifth grade – which is integrated into core curriculum objectives. The foundation's initial grant was $1.8 million with another $1.25 million awarded through 2015.

Smart Bodies consists of three main components:

The Body Walk is a 35-foot by 45-foot, colorful, walk-through exhibit representing the human body. Students explore nine organs of the body, stopping at each station to participate in activities focused on the effects that different foods have on each organ. Students also receive a take-home activity book to share with their families.

The OrganWise Guys are characters that help children understand physiology and healthy behaviors. These characters – Hardy Heart, Madame Muscle, Windy the Lungs, Peri Stolic the Intestines, Sir Rebrum the Brain, Peter Pancreas, Pepto the Stomach, the Kidney Brothers, Luigi Liver and Calci M. Bone – are manifested as cartoons in books, games and videos and as dolls used in nutrition lessons. Participating schools receive a free kit with eight videos, dolls, books, games and puzzles.

2 Step in the Classroom is a program that encourages healthy habits for eating and physical activity integrated into academic learning objectives. In addition, activities are provided for the parents to encourage their children.

Since March 2005, more than 450 elementary schools have implemented the Smart Bodies program, and nearly 400,000 children and adults have experienced the Body Walk. Beginning in 2009, a second Body Walk exhibit was put into use, allowing more schools to be reached. This year, the Body Walk will feature a new “Smart Bodies Cafeteria” station for children to explore. The Smart Bodies program helps schools meet federal and legislative mandates for wellness and physical activity.

Smart Bodies has been accepted by the National 4-H Headquarters as a Program of Distinction. It is the first program in Louisiana to earn this designation. Programs of Distinction are projects that reflect the high quality of 4-H youth development programs occurring in communities across the United States. These programs exhibit strong program development characteristics and contribute to the youth development body of knowledge; convey new ideas, materials or innovative methods related to positive youth development; and demonstrate evidence of effectiveness, such as demonstrated changes in knowledge, behaviors, attitudes or aspirations of youth and adults. The Smart Bodies Program was renewed as a 4-H National Program of Distinction in 2012.

In 2009, Smart Bodies was one of four winners in the national Blue Works Awards program, which is designed to advance the mission of Blue Cross and Blue Shield to improve the quality of health care.

Sign Up for Smart Bodies
Local AgCenter extension agents recruit schools for the program and then conduct teacher trainings in the schools selected. Once the teachers have been trained, a school assembly is used to kick off the program and to build excitement and enthusiasm. Following the assembly, teachers begin using the Take 10! and OrganWise Guys curricular materials in the classrooms. At some point during the program, the Body Walk exhibit is taken to the school and set up by volunteers either in the gymnasium or cafeteria. After the Body Walk leaves, teachers continue to implement the program in the classroom. Smart Bodies newsletters are sent home to parents to emphasize physical activity and healthy eating.

“So far, we’ve found knowledge about fruits and vegetables, as well as willingness to consume fruits and vegetables, improved among students who participated in the program,” Holston said.

“We also studied the activity levels of students, and we found students registered higher activity counts when they were involved in the Take 10! part of the Smart Bodies program than they did while at recess, in physical education, at lunch or after school,” she said.

In other evaluations it was found that students who participated in Smart Bodies were twice as willing to taste fruits and vegetables served at school when compared to students who did not experience the Smart Bodies Program.

–Smart Bodies participants from the 4th and 5th grades significantly increased self-reported fruit and fruit juice consumption.

–After receiving the BMI report, more parents (87 percent) of at-risk or overweight children were concerned about their children’s weight.

–Smart Bodies participants increased their knowledge of physical activity twice as much as students who did not participate in the program.

School officials have praised the program.

“Smart Bodies fits well into St. Charles Parish public schools’ newly developed wellness policy that requires schools to provide and promote nutrition education,” said Cynthia Ruffin, director of Child Nutrition Programs, St. Charles Parish Public Schools. “Nutrition education has always been included in portions of our students’ curriculum, but Smart Bodies is a more comprehensive and creative way to teach students about the importance of eating right and exercising.”

Teri Noel, principal of Orly Magnet School in LaPlace, said the Smart Bodies program meets a need.

“This event was an awesome experience for my students,” Noel said. “K-5 students thoroughly enjoyed the exhibit, and teachers were pleased with the information presented. Thanks for the opportunity.”

Similar results can be found in surveys completed by a host of school teachers and administrators whose students took part in the program. Those comments include:

–I know several of us would be interested in even going to speak to another school about how it really is a good program. The kids really did learn something from it.

–They (students) enjoyed it. Every day they would say, “Are we doing Take 10!? Are we doing Take 10!?”

–I really liked how it (Smart Bodies) brought in what they eat, because there are a few of mine (students) who wouldn’t even try some of the vegetables or the fruits that were on the tray. But whenever they knew that we had to – everybody had to try in order to get a sticker – they would try it, and a couple of them ended up liking it. So I thought that was really good.

–I am in my 30th year, and I’m going to tell you that this (Smart Bodies) has been one of the best things that I have seen in education in a long time as far as what I learned going through it, what the kids were learning, the excitement that they had going through… It really was excellent. It was one of the best.

–I did Take 10! at the beginning of every science class. So we did the jumping jacks and singing songs… They got into it… It was wonderful… They loved it so much they wanted to continue. “Do we have to stop?” (they’d say, and I’d say,) “No, we don’t. Do ya’ll want to go on?”

The LSU AgCenter is an institution of higher education in Louisiana, which is headquartered in Baton Rouge. The LSU AgCenter provides educational services in every parish and conducts research that contributes to the economic development of the state. The LSU AgCenter does not grant degrees nor benefit from tuition increases. The LSU AgCenter plays an integral role in supporting agricultural industries, enhancing the environment, and improving the quality of life through its 4-H youth, family and community programs.

Last Updated: 12/31/2015 10:02:37 PM

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point of contact
Holston, Denise
LSU AgCenter