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Mary McPherson, R.N.,C.
 


Kathy Trace, M.H.A., B.S.N., R.N.

 

 

 

Addressing childhood obesity in Athens County preschools and high schools

Nov. 30, 2011

By Charlie Martinez and Elizabeth Boyle
 

The Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine
(OU-HCOM) is helping Athens County schools implement national programs aimed at encouraging students to eat healthier and get active.
 

The initiative is led by OU-HCOM’s Community Health Programs (CHP) and is supported by a five-year Ohio Department of Health grant awarded to CHP earlier this year. The funds are provided through a Division of Child and Family Health Services program that works to improve the health of reproductive age women, infants and children. The grants are awarded every five years and address issues identified by statewide needs assessments.
 

In Athens County, the need to fight childhood obesity is clear. According to a 2010 Ohio Department of Health study on obesity prevalence among Ohio’s third graders, children living in Appalachian counties had significantly higher rates of obesity compared with children living in other counties within the state. Among older kids, a recent Ohio Family Health Survey found that more than a third of 12- to 17-year-olds living in southeastern Ohio are obese. That number is double Ohio’s state rate of 18 percent.
 

To help address this issue, $36,000 of the grant will support CHP’s new Childhood Obesity Prevention Program. The remaining portion of the $56,000 grant funds continued CHP programming for perinatal health care, which provides support, education and prenatal care for underinsured and uninsured women.
 

For the obesity prevention program, Mary McPherson, R.N.,C., the program’s nurse consultant, is helping several Athens County preschools, daycare centers and high schools implement evidence-based consulting services or programs designed to educate children about nutritional choices and ways to stay active. CHP’s focus on very young children and teenagers complements the work of another OU-HCOM organization, the Americorps/ComCorps program, which is already working to improve eating habits and activity levels of Athens County elementary school kids.
 

The CHP effort is currently in the planning phase; McPherson is reaching out to area schools and plans to begin incorporating the programs in 2012. She is currently surveying high schools to help build infrastructure there for healthy nutrition and activity.
 

In preschools, she will help directors and staff implement the Nutrition and Physical Activity Self-Assessment for Child Care (NAP SACC), a model developed at the University of North Carolina with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funding. The model involves helping directors and staff assess their facility in areas such as the types of food served and student physical activity levels. McPherson will help train and guide the centers toward providing a healthier experience for children based on the assessment and goals set at that time.
 

“Some kids get two meals a day at preschool,” McPherson said. “If we can expose them to healthy meals at that early age, we can help them achieve healthier weights.”

 

CHP Director Kathy Trace, M.H.A., B.S.N., R.N., said the obesity initiative is expected to help build a foundation to begin educating the Athens County community about healthy food choices and the need for a more active lifestyle among kids.
 

“The obesity issue is viewed as a health crisis due to the implications that it has for chronic disease, quality of life and health care costs,” Trace said. “We can begin to change this trend by working in the community to implement these programs.”

 
 
 
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Last updated: 12/01/2011