Nutrition Education Program Battles Obesity in D.C. Schools

Posted: October 7, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Marjorie Musick

An online game might be the secret weapon for winning the war against childhood obesity. Mason researchers have designed and tested a nutrition education program called “Color My Pyramid” to teach students how to evaluate their dietary intake and activity level.

The program incorporates the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPyramid.gov for Kids Blast-Off Game, an interactive computer game that allows kids to win by fueling their rocket with nutritious foods and a healthy level of physical activity.

The Color My Pyramid program comprises six classes taught over three months. Researcher analysis showed that the program significantly improved children’s eating habits, increased physical activity levels, lowered blood pressure and decreased weight and body mass index percentiles.

Lisa Pawloski
Lisa Pawloski

“With 35 to 40 percent of children’s daily calorie consumption occurring during the school day, it is quite appropriate that a comprehensive nutrition intervention in school would assess, prevent and reduce the number of overweight and obese children,” says Lisa Pawloski, co-designer of the program who is an associate professor and chair of the Department of Global and Community Health in the College of Health and Human Services (CHHS).

“We hope that this pilot study provides a clearer understanding of effective approaches to nutrition interventions for school-age children.”

More than half of the participants, ages 9 to 11, were in the overweight or obese categories, a finding that although alarming, is consistent with the current trends of children from lower-income families living in urban areas.

“Washington, D.C., has one of the highest childhood obesity rates in the country, and it is unfortunately leading to serious problems of chronic diseases at a young age,” says Pawloski. “As a researcher, it was very eye-opening to see the number of local children affected by this epidemic.”

Pawloski notes that the study was different from other research projects because the team both designed the education program and tested its effectiveness.

The epidemic of childhood obesity in the United States is growing. Results from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2003-04 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey indicate that 17 percent of children and adolescents ages 2 to 19 years are overweight, putting them at increased risk for diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer.

Jean B. Moore
Jean B. Moore

However, Pawloski — who led the study with Jean Burley Moore, professor and assistant dean of nursing research development in CHHS — feels confident that childhood obesity can be overcome through education and parental involvement.

“One of the major issues underlying obesity is selecting the right foods,” Pawloski says. “By educating children about making healthy eating choices and educating parents and teachers on how to encourage those behaviors, children may have better success in sustaining a healthy weight.”

Patricia Goldberg, Kyeung Mi Oh and Ana Stoehr were coauthors on the study. The findings were presented in June at the International Orem Society for Nursing Science and Scholarship’s 10th World-Congress on Self-Care Deficit Nursing Theory held at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. The findings can be viewed online.

The University of the District of Columbia funded the research.

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