Ellen P. Murphy, Coreil, Paul D., Coolman, Denise | 4/19/2005 10:29:12 PM
OAK GROVE – Childhood obesity is one of the most critical health issues today, and the LSU AgCenter is working with universities in two other states to combat that problem across the Mississippi Delta Region.
Through a program dubbed "Delta HOPE," the Cooperative Extension Services of the LSU AgCenter, the University of Arkansas and Mississippi State University are conducting an educational initiative designed to fight childhood obesity in the region.
Leaders from the three universities recently toured elementary schools in the three states to raise awareness about the ongoing programs, which are based on educational tools known as the OrganWise Guys, Body Walk and Take 10! All the programs focus on teaching young people about the importance of good nutrition and physical activity in overall health.
"The goal of this tri-state project is to conduct educational programs designed to teach healthy behaviors that contribute to healthy lifestyles and healthy habits for children," said Dr. Paul Coreil, LSU AgCenter vice chancellor for Extension. "The Lower Mississippi Delta Region is an area where education relating to diet and exercise can be of great benefit. Healthy children today will grow into healthy adults of tomorrow."
The program known as Delta HOPE – which stands for "Healthy Options for People Through Extension" involves educational outreach and evaluation by Extension agents from all three universities. But it is just part of an active statewide childhood obesity initiative in Louisiana, according to Dr. Ellen Murphy, associate director of the LSU AgCenter’s School of Human Ecology.
Murphy said such initiatives are critical, because childhood obesity has doubled in the past 20 years and adolescent obesity has tripled. Increases in other childhood diseases such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes, asthma, sleep apnea, growth acceleration and psychological problems also have been seen.
"About one in three Louisiana school-aged children is overweight or obese," Murphy said. "One in four obese children has early signs of type 2 diabetes. Spontaneous activity declines 50 percent between age 6 and age 16. Lifestyle choices made at early ages have a direct impact on adult health."
Obesity-related diseases account for almost half of Louisiana’s healthcare budget, Murphy said. Nationally, annual hospital costs for obesity-related disorders in children and adolescents are estimated to be about $127 million. Experts have said that the prevention of obesity is easier than treatment.
"In order to prevent childhood and adolescent obesity, healthful behaviors must be introduced, modeled and reinforced early in childhood," Murphy said. "Healthy eating and physical activity are important life skills that help children grow and prevent them from developing health problems, such as obesity, later in life."
To help teachers with resources they need to increase nutrition knowledge, improve eating skills and increase the physical activity of elementary school students, faculty from the three universities in the Delta HOPE project conduct educational programs designed to teach healthy behaviors that contribute to healthy habits and healthy lifestyles for children. This is done by using the OrganWise Guys program, as well as the BodyWalk and Take 10! programs.
The OrganWise Guys program features such characters as 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. They are part of a program developed by Wellness Inc. and the International Life Sciences Institute Center for Health Promotion in Atlanta. It is designed to teach the fundamentals of human physiology and how the body responds to different foods and lifestyles.
The Take 10! program promotes physical activity without taking time away from academics. Teachers conduct multiple 10-minute periods of physical activity in the classroom while maintaining the all-important focus on academics. Take 10! is a unique approach to academic instruction that addresses multiple learning styles, enhances academics and motivates children to be physically active – all at the same time! The activities are tied to the Louisiana standards and benchmarks for language arts, math, social studies and science.
For example, the students can do jumping jacks while repeating their multiplication tables or spelling their vocabulary words. Research shows learning is increased and test scores improve when children participate in physical activity.
The Body Walk is a 35- to 40-foot simulated tour of the human body. Children in K-5 grades enter a giant head through the ear and learn about brain waves. Students learn what foods are healthy for them and what foods are not. And physical activity is encouraged as a way to maintain a healthy body.
Officials say the programs definitely are working already.
"Schools participating in the programs reported an increase in students’ knowledge of healthy foods," Murphy said, adding, "For example, there was an increase in the number of students who knew that oranges were a good fruit choice for a healthy snack. Students also were reported to request doing some of the exercises in the Take 10! program if they had not been done on a certain day."
In addition, teachers involved in the program indicated they would continue to use these initiatives in their classrooms the next school semester.
Penny Hale, a teacher from Pioneer Elementary School in West Carroll Parish where the Delta HOPE tour stopped in Louisiana, said she believes the program is beneficial.
"They really like it," Hale said of the students participating in the OrganWise Guys program. "It’s great when you can get them to do something they enjoy doing, especially when it’s something that teaches them to exercise and eat right."
Sen. Robert Barham, R-Oak Ridge, who was among the community leaders and government officials participating in the awareness tour, was impressed with the program.
"I think this is a great collaborative effort among our three states to address childhood obesity," Barham said. "I commend all who are involved in helping teach our children about living a healthy life. The earlier we can reach them, the better chance they have of preventing obesity in their adult life."
For more information on these programs, contact your local LSU AgCenter office or go to www.lsuagcenter.com.