‘Food Warriors’ Fight Obesity

Emelia Clement, Cater, Melissa W.

Emelia Clement and Melissa Cater

Childhood obesity is a public health problem nationwide. In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that almost one of every five children and one of every three adults are obese. According to a 2016 report, “The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America,” released by Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Louisiana has the highest adult obesity rate at 36.2 percent. The state also ranks fourth in hypertension and fifth in diabetes rates, two important obesity-related chronic diseases. Overweight or obese children experience social stigma, bullying, low self-esteem and body dissatisfaction more than their peers who are not overweight. Obesity is an urgent situation in Louisiana that needs to be addressed.

High consumption of fruits and vegetables is associated with reduced risk of chronic diseases, but most people’s intake is below federal recommendations. The Pennington Biomedical Research Center reported in 2012 that among children in Louisiana, just 6 percent ate fruits more than four times a day and 12 percent ate vegetables more than three times a day. Therefore, improving consumption of fruits and vegetables is important in the effort to reduce childhood obesity.

The LSU AgCenter responded to the need for reducing in childhood obesity in Louisiana by offering the “Body Quest: Food of the Warriors” program in 2013. This obesity prevention program, created at the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, targets third-grade students. It is funded by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education, known as SNAP-Ed. The objectives are to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables, increase physical activity, improve sleep habits and enhance family environments.

Body Quest has several unique aspects. First, it uses animated characters called Body Quest Warriors, who represent different food groups and promote healthy habits that students are encouraged to model through interactive sessions. They are Graino Supa (grains), Muscle Max (proteins), Body Doctor (fruits), Shining Rainbow (vegetables), Super Slurper (water) and Fiberlicious (fiber). Secondly, it provides the opportunity for a number of vegetable and fruit tastings to improve preference. Thirdly, the lessons taught are reinforced through interactive iPad apps based on the warriors along with pencil-and-paper activities and workouts. Students are encouraged to think deeper about the main idea of the lesson and present their thoughts as a showcase at the end of the lesson or at the end of the program. Examples of showcase activities are how they would share what they learned with family and friends, how they would keep their vow to try new fruits and vegetables, and how eating a variety of food is important to building a strong body.

Four SNAP-eligible elementary schools in Orleans Parish participated in Body Quest between 2014 and 2016 for a total of 172 students reached. The schools included Dwight D. Eisenhower Academy of Global Studies, Joseph A. Craig Charter School, Pierre A. Capdau Charter School and ReNEW Schaumburg Elementary School. A SNAP-Ed agent delivered the six-lesson curriculum weekly for 17 weeks. Each third-grade student used the interactive iPad apps of the Body Quest warriors, tasted the food and completed assessments. Each student was provided with samples of four different foods for tasting with low-fat ranch dressing: broccoli, peppers, tomatoes and spinach. Students were asked to answer questions on whether they liked the food, if they would eat it again and if they would ask their family to buy it. At the first tasting, some of the students were reluctant to taste, but this improved with more tastings, especially when the foods were included in pasta salad. A few students asked for more vegetables and fruit to taste.

Students also did paper-and-pencil activities that involved writing or sketching a concept learned and how they would apply it to themselves. In-class presentations included meal planning with a variety of healthy food options and creative ways of incorporating fruits and vegetables in meals and snacks. The students were able to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy snacks. Students brought nutrition calendars and family discussion topics home to encourage family involvement and enhance the home nutrition environment.

More than 400 children in 11 parishes in Louisiana participated in an evaluation of the Body Quest program in 2015-2016. At the conclusion of the program, results showed that students had a significantly higher preference for three out of four vegetables tasted as compared to pre-program preferences: broccoli (64 percent to 67 percent), spinach (72 percent to 77 percent) and pepper (42 percent to 45 percent).

The implications of these results are important in extension education. Programs like Body Quest can influence vegetable preferences among youth. The Body Quest program has the potential to build preference for eating vegetables among elementary school youth.

Emelia Clement is an LSU AgCenter nutrition agent in Orleans Parish, and Melissa Cater is an assistant professor and program evaluation specialist with the Department of Agricultural and Extension Education and Evaluation.

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A Pierre Capdau School student uses the Body Doctor app to select fruits for a healthy body. Photo by Emelia Clement

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ReNEW Schaumburg Elementary School Body Quest Warriors are pictured with school health coordinator Kimberly Walsh, at the top left. Photo by Emelia Clement

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Pierre Capdau Charter School student identifies the transfat cat from a deck of Body Quest cards and how badly it affects people's health. Photo by Emelia Clement

9/5/2017 9:01:10 PM
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