In order to combat the childhood obesity epidemic, our Registered Dietitian and Health Education Manager developed a series of nutrition/healthy lifestyle education classes presented to children in their classrooms at 4 schools in San Jose, CA. These classes consist of learning how to fuel your body by choosing healthy food options, the importance of physical activity, the risk factors of obesity, how to read food labels, and taking responsibility for your choices. The classes include demonstrations and lots of interaction.
Initially when the classes were developed, we hoped to reach between 200-300 children. These classes have been so successful and the requests for them so numerous, that we were able to reach over 1200 children in the 2009-2010 school year. For the upcoming 2010-2011 school year, we are adding four more schools and additional staff to cover the requests. In addition, parents are requesting classes and several classes have been done for them as well.
Childhood obesity is rising at alarming rates. In our county, where a third of the population is Latino, the rates are even higher. In fact, 1 in 4 Latino children is obese. School Health Clinics of Santa Clara County already offered two methods to combat childhood obesity. The first is individual visits with our Registered Dietitian. The second is our Pediatric Weight Management Program, where children 8-13 years old with a BMI of above the 95th percentile, participate in an intensive 6 month program along with their family members.
Although both of these methods are effective, we realized that we needed to reach more children earlier in life. There are very few programs in our county offering childhood obesity education, and few in the classroom. The classes were designed by our Dietitian and Health Educator. We partnered with school staff to implement them. They have grown far beyond our expectations.
The overall mission of School Health Clinics of Santa Clara County is to keep kids healthy and in school by providing high quality, easily accessible primary medical care and preventative health services to low income children and adolescents. Our primary focus is prevention.
The nutrition/healthy lifestyle education classes were developed as another strategy in the fight against childhood obesity which is prevalent in the population we serve. The classes are designed to modify content for children between the 1st and 8th grade.
We wanted to show children how to choose healthier food options. We also wanted to keep their attention by making classes interactive and including ethnic dishes and foods they would eat every day. In addition, we wanted to teach them there are lots of options for physical activity. It isn’t just exercise. Our goal is to lead children to choose healthier food, beverage, and lifestyle options through this education.
The series covers three main topics:
We used our relationships with school nurses to get this program started. We are expanding classes and personnel for the 2010-2011 school year.
Evaluation of the series is done through pre and post surveys. In addition, we do random one-on-one interviews.
The surveys showed that knowledge was gained by 95% of the children. In addition, 90% made at least one lifestyle change. The children were so excited about the knowledge gained that they went home and shared the information with family members. Parents, teachers and community members requested classes also. 275 parents, teachers and community members attended these classes. In our county, English is the second language for half the population. Children are helping their parents read food labels and make healthier choices.
The adjustments that were made during the school year were mainly for age appropriateness. For the younger children more visual and hands on demonstrations were used (such as showing how many sugar cubes are in a bottle of soda or lining up boxes of cereal according to sugar content).
In our county, the need is so great, that we anticipate continued growth of these classes. We will add 4 additional schools this year and new staff to do presentations. We are continually working with school nurses to do medical follow up on any children that need additional services.
We are actively seeking new funding sources from corporations, foundations, organizations and individuals to grow the program as needed.
We are very excited that the San Jose Medical Center Foundation has approved a one-time million dollar 3:1 matching grant. For every dollar raised through June 30, 2011, there will be a $3 match up to $1,000,000 to support our mission.
Through pre and post surveys we evaluate the knowledge that the children have gained and the changes made in their dietary and physical activity habits. During random interviews with children and their parents, we have learned how adding more fruits and vegetables and teaching other family members how to read labels have changed their diet. Children are learning how to actively play instead of playing video games or watching TV. Families are taking walks together. We believe that by making changes and forming these better habits when they are young, we can help to stop the increase in childhood obesity.