Alabama alone shows obesity rates of more than 30 percent in adult obesity and has the sixth highest overweight levels for children at 36 percent.
According to a Youth Risk Behavior survey on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, Alabama tied with Kentucky and Oklahoma in 2011 for the highest in obesity among high school students at 17 percent.
But, there is hope in decreasing that number.
In an effort to help lower childhood obesity rates, Emma Anne Hallman, who is a Body Quest educator with the Nutrition Education Program of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System of Marion and Walker counties, visits with schools in and out of the county.
Body Quest is “a childhood obesity prevention program that allows third-grade students to learn to make healthier, better choices when eating,” Hallman wrote in an email.
The BQ program has been in the Walker County School System for two years. T.S. Boyd Elementary, Parrish Elementary and Lupton Jr. High are the three county schools that are receiving services through the program.
T.S. Boyd is in its second year while Parrish and Lupton are in their first. Hallman said that in order for a school to participate in the program, it must have 50 percent or more of its students in the free or reduced meal program.
“Healthy eating habits that are picked up by children when they are young will help them maintain a healthy lifestyle when they are adults,” Hallman says. “Plus, with a child’s body rapidly growing and changing, it needs particular nutritional requirements.”
Students partake in veggie tastings, which includes broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, bell peppers, spinach and carrots with a side of ranch dressing for dipping.
They also perform Warrior Workouts consisting of squash squats, carrot twists, turnip tummy or motion in the ocean.
However, technology also plays a huge role in the students’ health and nutrition education.
“The ‘wow’ factor of the program is the use of iPad technology. A mobile iPad lab is brought into the classroom and made complete with special app lessons that are led by anime-style warrior characters that teach students the importance of increasing their fruit and vegetable consumption, increase physical activity, improve their sleep habits and encourage their family to do the same as they complete their ‘quest’ of being a healthier person,” Hallman said.
T.S. Boyd and Parrish schools are currently control classes, meaning they do not receive weekly education until the end of 17 weeks.
Hallman says the BQ educators want to see the true growth in their fruit and vegetable consumption by collecting data and by having two groups of students participating allows the state staff to see the change in that data.
Lupton, however, is a treatment class. Third graders receive 30 to 45 minutes of nutrition curriculum from Hallman at least once a week for 17 weeks.
Last Wednesday, students in Megan Keeton’s, Alicia Harris’ and Regina Thorpe’s classes at Lupton enjoyed Hallman’s visit. They met Muscle Max, one of the animated characters that make up the Body Quest Warriors team.
Max gets his powers from eating meats, beans and milk; students later challenged themselves with games on the iPads where they arranged the foods into certain groups.
“I think Body Quest is a good way to help us eat healthy. I think it would be great for everyone to do this,” said eight-year-old Luke Aldridge. “My favorite part is getting to learn about new foods.”
Samantha Kreutz, 8, said the program “helps kids eat healthier. If you don’t eat healthy, you’ll have aches when you get older and you won’t be healthy when you’re older.”
Before they headed into Harris’s room, Malakiah Gilmore, 9, and Michael Briggs, 8, told why they like Body Quest.
“I like the iPads. Most of them like the bracelets, but I like the vegetables,” Gilmore said. “Mostly it’s important because when you’re sick you need to eat vegetables because if you eat too much junk food, you don’t get healthy. If you eat vegetables, you get healthy and strong.”
“I like the prizes, food and the teacher,” Briggs added. “I like all of them; we get bracelets, shirts and some pencils that are different colors.”
Hallman said not only are students and parents noticing a difference in eating habits within the home, but teachers are also giving testimonials on how well the children are learning about various foods and participating in the nutritional activities in the classroom.
“I think it’s very educational. It teaches them basic parts of the food group. It teaches them good nutritional values, and it helps the students to know what a balanced diet would be,” Harris said. “It incorporates technology. They get time to play on the iPad; they get time to learn about different food groups and explore different ways of planning meals, eating nutritional foods, and they also get to sample nutritious foods.”