Joshua Fredieu, Vanderlick, Esther C., Goebel, Tina M., Schultz, Bruce, Hebert, Lanette G. | 3/18/2009 1:02:16 AM
March is National Nutrition Month, and childhood obesity is a statewide problem in Louisiana. To address this problem, 4-H Club members, volunteers and LSU AgCenter 4-H agents throughout the state are using a variety of programs to get children to think about making healthy food choices.
One of the programs being used can be found in Iberia Parish, where older 4-H Club members work with fourth- and sixth-graders.
Emmy Mouton, a senior at Catholic High School in New Iberia, said the nutrition project club called Six Easy Bites meets monthly to prepare food using new recipes, with an emphasis on healthy eating.
For example, last month for Mardi Gras, the students made a heart-healthy king cake. Other selections have included salsa, fruit pizza and apple crisp.
Josh Fredieu, LSU AgCenter 4-H agent in Iberia Parish, said the program also involves instruction on etiquette, hand washing, food portions and the MyPyramid dietary guidelines.
“We realize childhood obesity has become a major factor in Louisiana,” Fredieu said.
Mouton said the program has been conducted the past two years, and each session has about 30 youths.
“The kids seem to enjoy making food and taking recipes home,” Fredieu said.
Mouton said the class exposes the children to foods they might not usually eat. “We try to inform them about foods that are healthy and will be good also,” she said.
In March, for St. Patrick’s Day, the food will feature avocados, Fredieu said.
Tina Goebel, an LSU AgCenter 4-H regional coordinator, said a new track, the Nutrition Fitness League, or NFL, will be offered at 4-H summer camps this year for fourth through sixth grades.
“The whole idea behind it is to teach them to balance their energy in and energy out,” she said.
Students will have a “playbook” to write down the amount of calories they consume and the amount of calories they burn during the day, Goebel explained.
The youth will be instructed on healthy eating, portion control and food variety, and they will participate in activities, such as relay races, for exercise, she said.
A nutrition track had been offered at summer camp before, but exercise was not included, Goebel added.
Esther Coco Boe, an LSU AgCenter 4-H agent in Avoyelles Parish, is using the national 4-H program “Health Rocks” to dissuade youngsters from making bad choices that could affect their health.
To illustrate the harm that can come from tobacco, for example, the smoke from one lit cigarette is trapped in a bottle. “It was a very good visual,” she said.
Other visual aids inform the children in grades four through eight of the damage that can be caused by alcohol and illegal drugs such as methamphetamine, Boe said.
“It’s not to scare them, but we want to teach them what can happen from bad choices,” she added.
Area nursing students have volunteered to help with the program, Boe said, and their expertise in substance abuse treatment has been an asset.
Some of the students have revealed they drink alcohol and sometimes get drunk, Boe said.
“They do know people who have become alcoholics,” she said.
Club meetings occasionally touch on these topics, she said.
Lanette Hebert, an LSU AgCenter 4-H regional coordinator, said all these efforts are part of the National 4-H Mission Mandate of Healthy Living, which targets the physical, mental and emotional health of youth in hopes of promoting healthy and productive lives.
Dr. Paul Coreil, LSU AgCenter vice chancellor for extension, said many other LSU AgCenter programs that stress nutrition and health include Body Walk, Smart Choices and the AgCenter’s Web site.
“These are all designed to begin lifelong habits and approaches to healthier lifestyles,” Coreil said.