January 26, 2007

Live It! program tackles child obesity

Featured Image

Students at Wright Middle School hold up the pedometers given to them during the kickoff of this year’s Live It! Go for the Red, White and Blue program. (Photo by Susan Urmy)

Live It! program tackles child obesity

The second annual Live it! Go for the Red, White and Blue program launched last week in area middle schools in an effort to help families fight the growing epidemic of childhood obesity.

The program is a collaboration between children's health experts from Vanderbilt and area middle schools, backed by community funding, to encourage students to be active and make healthy eating choices.

“Live It! Go for the Red, White and Blue is designed to be introduced in middle school and build on concepts learned beginning in grade five through grade eight,” said Dianne Killebrew, coordinator of Live It! Go for the Red, White and Blue. “These are pivotal ages when lifelong habits are forming and physical activity and proper nutrition are important for a person's long-term, positive growth and wellness.”

Like last year, every child begins with a starting measurement of both knowledge and a Body Mass Index score. They receive a pedometer and Live It! materials to get started. But this year there are a few changes, including the newly improved Web site (www.liveitredwhiteandblue.com) where students and parents can find a tracking system to help chart progress. There will be classroom competitions where each class/teacher will maintain a Live It! classroom tracker chart. A newspaper will be sent home weekly with a recipe and physical activity information. Finally, Special Teams will visit the classes every other week to select the healthiest class from the school and the class will receive a prize.

A weeklong schedule of pep-rally launches began at Wright Middle School. Battle Ground Academy, Donelson, Bellevue and Croft middle schools are involved this year as well.

The program is one way the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt and the schools are working together through community grants to address the growing crisis of childhood obesity. Research collected in last year's Live it! program showed 50 percent of the children measured above the 84th percentile for body mass index (BMI), putting them in the “at risk for overweight/obesity” or the “overweight/obese” categories.

“I was surprised that it was that much higher than the national population for children,” said Tom Cook, Ph.D., lead researcher for Children's Hospital's School-based Community Outreach Programs. “The national average is 33 percent who are either overweight or at risk.”

Vanderbilt team members, including nurses, the track team, Vanderbilt Sports Medicine and nutrition interns, work closely with the schools on this program, along with community supporters Dell and Coca Cola. During the eight-week program, teachers, parents and staff will encourage each other and work to keep students' interest and involvement high — a difficult task, as researchers found out when looking at last year's results. The number of schools involved this year was kept small to try to intensify the program at each school.