School-based Program Improves Diet, Reduces Television Viewing of Elementary School Children
For immediate release: November 01, 1999
Boston and Baltimore--As a result of an innovative school-based program, elementary school children in Baltimore public schools are eating healthier and getting more exercise.
The program, called Eat Well & Keep Moving, was developed by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and practitioners at the Department of Education, Baltimore City. It was designed in reaction to research showing that the combination of poor diet and sedentary lifestyle is second to smoking as the leading cause of death in the United States. This program promotes healthy habits in children including low-fat diets, increased fruit and vegetable consumption, increased physical activity, and reduced television viewing.
The researchers found that at the end of the two-year program students significantly increased their consumption of fruits and vegetables and decreased their intake of total and saturated fat. In addition, the students spent approximately 4 hours less time per week watching TV compared to students in control schools. Steven Gortmaker, of HSPH's Department of Health and Social Behavior, said: "We are excited to see that a program like ours can help reduce the amount of television children watch. Research has shown that this can have very positive health benefits."
Designed to be integrated into existing school curriculums, Eat Well & Keep Moving enables teachers to promote good health practices in conjunction with math, science, language arts, and social studies. "We designed an integrated approach not only because it helps to reinforce the message but because many schools lack the time and/or resources to provide separate classes in health and physical education," said Lilian Cheung of HSPH's Department of Nutrition.
Going beyond the classroom, Eat Well & Keep Moving messages were reinforced throughout the school in activities in the cafeteria, physical education classes, and promotional campaigns, as well as programs with parents and teachers. "Putting healthy choices on menus does not mean students will eat them. The marketing approach of Eat Well & Keep Moving which focuses on promoting healthful choices in school breakfast and lunch programs is a very powerful strategy for improving students health," says Leonard Smackum, Director of Food and Nutrition Services at Baltimore City Department of Education.
Feedback from principals, teachers, parents, and students indicated that the program was well accepted. "Eat Well & Keep Moving has been instrumental in creating an awareness among teachers, cafeteria staff, students, and parents about the importance of eating healthy and keeping fit. I feel strongly that the project offers an educational experience that would benefit all Baltimore City children," said Julia Winder, Principal of Graceland Park-O'Donnell Heights Elementary School in Baltimore.
"We are impressed by the reception of the program in our schools and its effects on students," says Edith Fulmore of the Department of Education in Baltimore City who co-created the classroom-based curriculum with the Harvard team. The program has now been implemented in 40 of Baltimore's 122 grade schools.
Eat Well & Keep Moving was tested over a two-year period in six public elementary schools with eight matched schools as controls in urban Baltimore. Longitudinal data on 479 students was collected through paper and pencil multiple choice self-reports. In addition, trained interviewers collected information on a sub-sample of 336 students to evaluate diet and physical activity for the previous 24-hour period. Results of the research, "Impact of a School-based Interdisciplinary Intervention on Diet and Physical Activity Among Urban Primary School Children," appeared in the September issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.
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