Linda Benedict, Blanchard, Tobie M.
Darion Dewhirst had never tasted a tomato before Beth Gambel brought her mobile iPad lab and bags of fresh vegetables to his school. Now the third-grader looks forward to trying new vegetables.
Gambel, an LSU AgCenter family and consumer science agent, is conducting the program “Body Quest: Food for the Warrior” at Chalmette Elementary School. The program uses characters drawn in the bold Japanese style called anime to challenge youth to develop healthy behaviors. The youngsters meet the warriors with names like Body Doc and Fiberlicious through lessons and games on an iPad app.
Dewhirst’s favorite character is Muscle Max. “I like to get muscles and be strong,” he said. “I want to be like my dad and build something. But I’ll be too weak because I’ve been eating so much junk. But if I’ve been eating healthier foods, then I would be able to build stuff.”
Technology can keep youngsters sedentary, but the iPad app encourages the 35 third graders to move more and eat better. Using the iPads and earbuds, the students navigate through the day’s lesson independently.
“They’re doing their work on their own. And then at the end when we follow up with questions about what have you heard or learned, we’re reinforcing some comprehension,” Gambel said.
The weekly lessons aim to fight childhood obesity by increasing fruit and vegetable consumption and physical activity, improving sleep habits and enhancing family environments. The classes are held in conjunction with a physical education class. Chris McNamara, the phys ed teacher, says the mobile iPad lab Gambel brings is an exciting aspect of the program.
“If it’s not something to do with electronics – keeping score on the scoreboard or something along those lines – they lose interest pretty quick,” McNamara said. “So, having the iPads and having the program on the iPads, they look forward to that every week.”
In addition to the iPads, Gambel also brings fresh vegetables each week. She said the more they taste vegetables, the more they come to like them.
“If you can make a change in one child – if one child eats it – then the kid next to him is going to try it. It’s kind of a contagious thing,” Gambel said.
During this lesson the students were introduced to the character Shining Rainbow.
“I learned that she likes to eat colorful foods because they are healthy and keep you active,” said student Paige August.
Other characters encourage eating fiber and whole grains and drinking water.
The other schools participating in the program are Acadian Elementary New Vision Academy in Alexandria, Belle Rose Primary School, Farmerville Elementary School, Hicks High School in Leesville, Jones Elementary School in Minden, Mount Herman Elementary School and Newellton Elementary School.
The program is running for 10 weeks this year. Next year the AgCenter plans to expand the program to new schools and conduct it over 17 weeks.
(This article was published in the winter 2013 issue of Louisiana Agriculture magazine.)