A multidisciplinary team of University of Georgia faculty is partnering with the Clarke County School District is providing a new after-school enrichment program aimed at improving the children’s health and stimulate their learning in reading and mathematics.
The program currently serves about 60 children in two elementary schools.
“We are bringing together UGA teacher educators, health promotion and kinesiology professors with Clarke County School administrators, staff and parents to provide a hands-on, engaging after-school program that will address the challenges faced by children,” said Phillip Tomporowski, a professor of kinesiology in the College of Education.
The Physical Activity and Learning program is funded by a five-year, $666,193 federal grant from the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, administered by the Georgia Department of Education.
The new after-school program is the culmination of more than a decade of research that shows that children’s increased physical activity can lead to higher academic achievement. The methods central to the Physical Activity and Learning program are described in the soon-to-be-released book, “Enhancing Children’s Cognition with Physical Activity Games,” written by Tomporowski and McCullick, who are both participating faculty in UGA’s Obesity Initiative.
Gary LeFeuvre, executive director of Athens MOVE magazine, pays tribute to the recently deceased University of Georgia Obesity Initiative director, Clifton Baile. View article here.
To help support the fulfillment of Dr. Baile’s vision, Athens MOVE will feature an article about one program or study from the UGA Obesity Initiative in each issue.
Learn more about Athens MOVE.
Spinach artichoke dip with multigrain bread, corn salad with lime vinaigrette, taco roll ups and fruit kabobs are not teenagers’ usual lunch fare. But thanks to a new summer day camp called Health Matters, Athens-Clarke County teens and their parents now have a taste for healthy and nutritious foods.
As part of the ongoing effort to encourage healthier lifestyles among local residents, UGA Extension partnered with Athens-Clarke County Leisure Services and Athens Regional Health System to coordinate the camp this summer.
The program, which ran for six weeks, addressed a host of health and nutrition topics facing teens and adults alike.
The camp promoted different types of healthful food options and physical activities to children 11 to 14 to help them take responsibility for their own nutrition and fitness.
“We wanted to show campers you can incorporate physical activity and good eating habits into your routine in ways that are fun,” said Leslie Trier, program specialist with Athens-Clarke County Leisure Services. “An active lifestyle doesn’t necessarily mean that you play a competitive sport or that you follow a strict diet, although it can include those things.”
The UGA Obesity Initiative pledged five tuition scholarships to attend the Health Matters Camp.
“These funds made it possible to recruit at-risk youth who could not afford the registration fees and otherwise would not have benefited from the program,” said Judy Hibbs, UGA Obesity Initiative member and Extension coordinator.
Athens Regional Health System matched the UGA Obesity Initiative’s contribution, totaling 10 scholarships.
Physical activities included different types of team and individual sports ranging from volleyball and tennis to yoga and swimming.
In the classroom, campers learned about portion size, food safety and how to read food labels among other things. The group took field trips to local eateries, where they learned how to make sensible menu choices.
Education extended to parents who attended weekly classes addressing topics such as cost-effective meal preparation and quick and easy nutritional foods.
View Columns article here.
Are you willing to help combat obesity in Georgia? University of Georgia Extension needs interested Georgians to test the new Walk Georgia website by registering for the program and logging physical activity online.
Walk Georgia is a Web-based program offered with no registration cost to all Georgians. As a part of UGA Extension, the program is based in communities across Georgia. Extension agents and program staff throughout the state plan community events, meet residents in person and provide incentives in their counties.
Pilot session participants can register for the testing phase of the new Walk Georgia website at pilot.walkgeorgia.org and begin tracking their physical activity data online. Participants can create and join groups, or join as an individual. Customizable sessions and goals will be available soon.
A $1 million, three-year grant from The Coca-Cola Foundation allowed for a complete renovation of the Walk Georgia website and the improved program offerings. Goals of this better equipped Walk Georgia program include reaching 100,000 Georgians and decreasing obesity by 5 percent in all Georgia counties over the next three years.
Through the new Walk Georgia website, participants can log on and track their physical activity year-round. The website now scales to mobile devices and will be integrated with popular social media outlets.
Improvements to the Walk Georgia system also make it better suited as a worksite wellness program. Walk Georgia is also being adapted for classroom use. Schools, districts and entire systems can participate in Walk Georgia; competition between classes, grades or schools can be enabled by teachers simply logging aggregate activity data for their class. Walk Georgia-based lesson plans will be available for elementary school teachers this year.
Willing participants in the website’s testing phase are asked to log on to pilot.walkgeorgia.org, create an account and begin logging their activity. Sign up for the weekly Walk Georgia newsletter during the registration process or visit the daily blog at blog.extension.uga.edu/walkgeorgia/ to keep track of the pilot’s progress. Email questions and feedback to email@example.com.
For more information or to view multimedia associated with this story, click here: http://georgiafaces.caes.uga.edu/?public=viewStory&pk_id=5204
From cutting carbs to reducing sodium, weight loss tips are plentiful in the media. Even tips based on research studies often appear to contradict the findings of other studies. With an abundance of obesity research, cutting through the noise to help reduce obesity can be challenging for those involved in health communication. Ultimately, helping people lose weight may be more about helping them change their habits than simply providing them with information, according to experts involved with UGA’s Obesity Initiative.
“I think a lot of times people would like to believe if I just tell you how many calories you’re consuming … that in and of itself will help people interested in losing weight,” said Glen Nowak, who is a professor and director of the Center for Health and Risk Communication in UGA’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. “It’s much more difficult than that.”
Effective health communications involves helping people change their lifestyle. Experts say the best combination for losing weight is still counting calories and exercising. But to encourage people to adopt these behaviors, communication efforts have to call attention to rewards or incentives, according to Nowak. For people to alter their habits, they often have to recognize what they are going to gain from the change.
Nowak co-leads the UGA Obesity Initiative’s Persuasive Health and Marketing Communication Team, along with Karen King, who is the Jim Kennedy Professor of New Media in UGA’s Grady College. The team hopes to collaborate with others involved in obesity research and outreach to help achieve this behavior change.
While health communications alone is not enough to combat obesity, it is still a vital part of interventions, according to Nowak.
“You really do need good communications to get people’s attention, to get them to do something,” Nowak said.
People who own dogs may be more likely to exercise, according to a 2013 American Heart Association report. Now, researchers at the University of Georgia have found that virtual pets can also encourage kids to get moving.
The University of Georgia researchers developed a virtual reality experience that allows children to use their own exercise to increase the fitness of a virtual dog. As a child meets physical activity goals, he is able to teach his dog new tricks. The project, funded by a seed grant from UGA’s Obesity Initiative, was found to increase the physical activity of kids at a local summer camp by one hour per day compared to kids who used a goal-setting program without a virtual pet.
“Not only were we interested in developing the [virtual] dog, we were interested in making sure that this virtual dog would help children change behavior,” said Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn, an assistant professor of advertising in UGA’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, who was the principal investigator on the project. The endeavor was a collaboration between Ahn, UGA College of Engineering assistant professor Kyle Johnsen and faculty from UGA’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
The researchers took the virtual reality system to the Georgia 4-H Summer Camp program at Rock Eagle 4-H Center in Eatonton, Georgia last summer. This field-testing site for the study was provided by UGA Extension. Children at the camp were given clip-on activity monitors, similar to a pedometer. By plugging the activity monitors into a computer kiosk, the kids were also able to access their own personal virtual pet. Each child set a physical activity goal for his or her pet, such as 30 minutes of exercise, using the computer system.
“The idea was that as the children exercise the virtual dog exercises with them,” Ahn said.
If the child exercised enough to meet the pet’s goal, the child was able to use the virtual reality system to teach his pet a new trick using vocal cues and hand gestures. As the child met more goals, he could teach the dog more complicated tricks – such as roll over, fetch and even moonwalk.
After three days, the children who were able to interact with and set goals for their virtual pet exercised an hour more each day than children who set goals using a computer system but no virtual pet. The findings were published in the journal IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics and have also been accepted for publication in the Journal of Health Communication.
“What we think is happening is that they care about the virtual pet’s well-being,” said Ahn. “Once you recognize and realize that the virtual pet is becoming healthier because of you then you feel much more confident about your [exercise] abilities.”
In addition to providing an exercise buddy and a reward system, the virtual nature of the intervention allowed it to be personalized for each child.
“In virtual reality, you can track what people are doing very, very well and you can provide very detailed feedback, individualized feedback,” Johnsen said. “You can’t do that with other interventions like a commercial or a class.”
In the future, Johnsen and Ahn hope to continue their collaboration to see if they can achieve continued physical activity increases with longer interventions, such as 12 weeks or 16 weeks.
“I think this was one of those instances where the Obesity Initiative did a really good job in terms of pulling together very interdisciplinary people,” Ahn said. “It was a really big collection of different expertise that really brought this forward.”
Tight control over snacks can make kids want them more, according to a study by UGA foods and nutrition professor Leann Birch, which was featured last month in The New York Times. For parents, finding the right balance between structure and choice could be important to ensuring their children have a healthy relationship with food.
All children in the study were more attracted to snacks that were typically prohibited than snacks that were made easily accessible. But the forbidden snacks were even more enticing for some of the kids, specifically those that were found to be “reactive eaters,” or highly motivated by food, in another task. These children ate more of the prohibited snacks when they were made available, according to the Times article.
The next step in this research is to determine how much freedom parents should give their kids when it comes to eating, Birch explained in a follow-up interview. The answer may depend on how naturally reactive to food the child is.
Birch, who conducted the research while on faculty at Penn State, said her colleagues are currently testing how different parenting approaches affect kids’ attraction to food. She thinks parenting principles from other areas of psychology, which suggest balancing structure and freedom, may apply.
“Parents can provide structure for children by choosing the foods available to them and providing routines related to the timing of meals and snacks,” said Birch, who is a member of UGA’s Obesity Initiative. “Within that structure, parents can allow children to make all the choices about whether and how much to eat.”
Check out the Times article for more tips from the expert.
Eating burgers over broccoli may not cause you to have cancer, but if your diet leads to obesity, there’s more cause for concern. Many connections between specific foods and cancer prevention have been called into question in recent years, according to a New York Times article published earlier this week. Controlling obesity, on the other hand, appears to be more important.
Obesity has been associated with a higher risk for a variety of cancers, including cancers of the colon, esophagus, gallbladder, kidney, pancreas, uterus and breast, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Around one in four new cancers in men and one in seven new cancers in women were attributed to obesity in 2007, according to one study cited by the NCI.
Recent reports suggest more connections between various cancers and obesity. In March, a USA Today article reported findings associating excess weight with ovarian cancer for the first time. This month, LiveScience cited another study connecting obesity to a specific type of breast cancer.
The benefits of a healthy weight are greater for reducing the risk of diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, medical oncologist Alexi Wright told USA Today. The NCI also notes that much of the evidence for the connection between obesity and cancer comes from observational studies, meaning it’s harder to tell whether other factors are to blame for cancer development.
Nonetheless, if you’re hoping to ward off the disease, you might be better off focusing on staying fit rather than eating a specific “superfood.”
Burke County has an obesity rate of 36 percent, and 31 percent of its residents aren’t physically active, according to this year’s County Health Rankings. But efforts are being made to encourage exercise.
The article tells the story of Kyleigh Egan and her family, who started running and walking together after Kyleigh participated in a youth fitness program called Girls on the Run. The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service in Burke County brought the international after-school program to the area.
Located in Southeast Georgia on the South Carolina border, Burke is ranked 145 out of Georgia’s 159 counties for health outcomes, a measure of length of life and quality of life used by the County Health Rankings. Surrounding counties, such as Jenkins and Richmond, have similar low rankings at 142 and 135, respectively. Some of the top preventable causes of death are related to obesity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Leaders of the University of Georgia Obesity Initiative hope to partner with extension offices in the future to reduce obesity in South Georgia and throughout the state, as the Red & Black article explains.
UGA researchers have already worked with another South Georgia community, Colquitt County, to promote the use of walking trails and farmers markets.
“What we’re hoping will happen is that, as we get things on the ground that are successful, those things will diffuse across the state,” said Debbie Murray, co-chair of the Obesity Initiative’s Community Health Team, in The Red & Black’s article.
For more on obesity in Georgia counties, check out the previous article in The Red & Black’s “Weigh down South” series.