College of Education, Health and Human Services promotes health for children

Nate Ulrich

Students and teachers from the College of Education, Health and Human Services are working together to combat childhood obesity.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 16 percent of U.S. children and teenagers between the ages of 6 and 19 are considered overweight. The same study indicates 30 percent of adults 20 years and older are overweight.

Natalie Caine-Bish, assistant professor in the School of Family and Consumer Studies, is in charge of an after-school program called 4-3-2-1 Healthy Kids. The weekly program encourages children in grades 3-5 at Longcoy and Brimfield elementary schools to become more active and eat healthy foods.

“We’re trying to increase fruit and vegetable consumption, increase dairy consumption, decrease (TV) time and increase physical activity,” Caine-Bish said.

Caine-Bish said Kent State graduate students in nutrition and dietetics and undergraduate students in a community and nutrition class help organize physical activities and games for more than 50 children at each school.

“We try to get (the children) to do both muscular-strength exercise and endurance exercise without them knowing that they’re doing it,” Caine-Bish said. “There is a lot of game-like activity.”

She said two other elementary schools are being observed as part of the project.

A media campaign, which promotes healthy living but offers no after-school program, has been launched at Katherine Thomas Elementary in Windham. Longcoy is the only school with both a media campaign and an after-school program, Caine-Bish said.

Steve Mitchell, professor in the School of Exercise, Leisure and Sport, said data will be collected by measuring the body mass index of the children before and after the program. Mitchell said his graduate students will assist him in analyzing the data.

Caine-Bish said questionnaires also will be administered to the children to determine if the program increased their physical activity outside of school.

Scott Olds, professor of health promotion at Kent State, said he is planning to use the data collected from the program to write two grant proposals with Mitchell during the summer.

Olds said the first project, which will be submitted to a philanthropic organization known as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is an evaluation of the local wellness policies. All schools that receive federal support for the school lunch program must have such policies intact.

“Our study proposes to investigate how (school) districts develop and implement such policies and what impact they have on the school food environment, student eating behaviors and student body mass index,” Olds said.

Mitchell said the second project focuses on developing after-school programs like 4-3-2-1 Healthy Kids for entire school districts. The National Institutes of Health will be asked to fund the project, Mitchell said.

Olds said establishing projects that promote healthy living will benefit society.

“The projects are important because childhood obesity contributes to adult obesity, which causes serious problems and exacts a significant financial cost to Americans,” Olds said. “Further, childhood obesity is preventable.”

Contact College of Education, Health and Human Services reporter Nate Ulrich at [email protected].