OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi faculty, staff and students are working to help prevent and reduce childhood obesity in the Mississippi Delta, supported by a $275,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
The WKKF grant provides funding to expand the Department of Nutrition and Hospitality Management’s ”Eating Good … and Moving Like We Should” program, which increases accessibility of health education resources such as learning gardens, greenhouses, fitness facilities and nutrition education for school children and their teachers.
“The mission of WKKF is to improve the lives of children, and that is what we hope to do,” said Kathy Knight, interim chair of nutrition and hospitality management. “Through this program, we are changing the culture of obesity in Mississippi one child at a time.”
Established in 2007, the program works with Lyon Elementary in Clarksdale, I.T. Montgomery Elementary School in Mound Bayou, Quitman County Elementary in Lambert and Pope Elementary School in Panola County. The grant will allow the program to expand to Charleston Elementary School in Charleston, said Lacy Dodd, project manager and health educator.
At I.T. Montgomery Elementary, students have maintained the school’s “Garden of Hope,” for six years, learning where their food comes from and tasting the difference between fresh and preserved produce. A primary goal of the program is to ensure all the school gardens are sustainable and have community support, Dodd said.
“Gardening can be used as a physical activity tool as well as a hands-on learning tool,” Dodd said. “It can be a fun way to get out of the classroom and be active and get a little sunshine. Research shows that children are more apt to eat spinach and other fruits and vegetables if they’ve seen how their food is grown.”
Helping partner schools become involved in the NFL’s Play 60 campaign, a national initiative to combat childhood obesity by encouraging 60 minutes of activity daily, is also on the horizon. Additionally, the UM team will compile resource guides of health and physical activity curricula from the Mississippi Department of Education’s Office of Healthy Schools for the schools, as many in the program do not have Internet access.
To encourage healthy lifestyles throughout the schools, the program has installed on-site fitness facilities for teachers in I.T. Montgomery, Quitman County Elementary and Lyon Elementary and donated a large television, exercise DVDs and equipment to the Batesville Middle School teacher fitness center.
“We’ve installed exercise rooms at schools so that teachers can set an example,” Knight said. “People who are fit and know how much better it makes them feel are the best advocates for fitness.”
“Eating Good … And Moving Like We Should“ has also partnered with the Ole Miss Department of Athletics and the Boys & Girls Club in Oxford to install a garden and provide nutrition education as part of Move Mississippi, a program that promotes physical activity through student-athlete involvement. The department recently began working with C.M. Scott Center, a center that provides services for mentally and physically challenged children in regional school districts.
For more information on “Eating Good … and Moving Like We Should,” visit http://www.olemiss.edu/projects/eatinggood.