OXFORD, Miss. – When University of Mississippi nutritionist Janie Cole explained to a group of elementary school students in the Delta that diabetes is, in many cases, preventable, she saw an instant reaction. “The children straightened up in their seats, and you could see the light bulbs going off in their heads,” said Cole, a registered dietitian. “I knew we were going to make a difference. It was a defining moment.” With the help of a $150,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the UM Department of Nutrition and Hospitality Management is working to increase these moments. The grant funds the department’s four-year-old Eating Good … and Moving Like We Should initiative, a collaborative program between UM and New York-based nonprofit ‘nPlay Foundation to combat childhood obesity in the Delta.
“What we found when we first went into the schools is that children just don’t know the importance of eating healthy and exercising,” said Lacy Dodd, education and training specialist for Eating Good … and Moving Like We Should. “Now that they know, they want to do it. I think we’re going to have more children than ever learning to live healthier lifestyles.” Since receiving the Kellogg grant in January, the UM team has been preparing for the upcoming school year at Lyon Elementary in Clarksdale, I.T. Montgomery Elementary School in Mound Bayou, Quitman County Elementary in Lambert and the South Panola School District’s Pope Elementary School. The UM group already has installed on-site fitness facilities at I.T. Montgomery, Quitman County Elementary and Lyon Elementary for teachers to use during their breaks and is planning to break ground on a garden at Lyon Elementary. The program also will provide training to help schools adapt to recent changes in federal guidelines for the school lunch pattern as well as work toward meeting HealthierUS Schools Challenge criteria. The UM group also is working with ‘nPLAY and the UM Athletics Association to bring Ole Miss athletes to the schools to help encourage healthy life choices and act as role models. Eating Good … and Moving Like We Should has seen success since its establishment in 2007. In its first year, 77 percent of participating children increased their physical activity levels, and 58 percent shared their knowledge with family members, a primary goal the program hopes to expand on this year. “We’re going to reach out more to families,” said Kathy Knight, associate professor and interim chair of Nutrition and Hospitality Management. “Research shows that programs in Mississippi that focus on the schools are working. The children seem to be making good choices, especially at school. There’s an increase in interest and knowledge. What we have to do is translate that knowledge into everyday action they can take into the rest of their lives.” At I.T. Montgomery Elementary, food service administrator for the Mound Bayou School District Rose Tate has seen some of this everyday action firsthand. For five years, students at the elementary school have been active in maintaining the “Garden of Hope,” which Eating Good … and Moving Like We Should has helped fund and maintain. The garden teaches children where vegetables come from – many responded “grocery store,” when first asked, Tate said – as well as taste the difference between fresh produce and preserved fruits and vegetables. The grant will allow continued funding for this garden as well as the already established gardens at Quitman County Elementary and Pope Elementary, and eventually may allow the program to provide nutrition and physical education curriculum in more schools. “The Kellogg Foundation is committed to helping the people of Mississippi and that is also an important part of the mission of the Department of Nutrition and Hospitality Management,” Knight said. “We look forward to working together to improve the health of Mississippi’s children and families.” Dodd said the Eating Good … and Moving Like We Should team is looking forward to the program’s continued success. “It is wonderful to be partnered with a funding organization that not only cares about children, but the communities as a whole,” Dodd said. “The Kellogg Foundation doesn’t expect to see miracles overnight – they are forming long-term partnerships with Mississippians to make lasting changes in the health of individuals and communities.” For more information on the foundation, visit http://www.wkkf.org. For more information on Eating Good … and Moving Like We Should, visit http://www.olemiss.edu/projects/eatinggood. About the W.K. Kellogg Foundation The W.K. Kellogg Foundation, founded in 1930 as an independent, private foundation by breakfast cereal pioneer Will Keith Kellogg, is among the largest philanthropic foundations in the United States. Guided by the belief that all children should have an equal opportunity to thrive, WKKF works with communities to create the conditions where vulnerable children can realize their full potential in school, work and life. The Kellogg Foundation is based in Battle Creek, Mich., and works throughout the United States and internationally, as well as with sovereign tribes. Special emphasis is paid to priority places where there are high concentrations of poverty and where children face significant barriers to success. WKKF priority places in the U.S. are in Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico and New Orleans; and internationally, are in Mexico and Haiti.