The University of Nevada Cooperative Extension (UNCE) "All 4 Kids" nutrition and physical activity program is one of 11 programs in the country to receive a National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) grant to study the behavioral factors that affect childhood obesity.
UNCE's "All 4 Kids: Healthy, Happy, Active, Fit" program will receive $1.1 million to study how parenting styles, family involvement and other factors affect the success of obesity prevention messages. The grant will also be used to expand All 4 Kids to other states.
The All 4 Kids program, launched in 2007, was designed by UNCE Southern area faculty Madeleine Sigman-Grant, an area specialist for maternal-child health and nutrition; Anne Lindsay, a specialist in exercise physiology; and Teresa Byington, an early care and education specialist. The program utilizes dance, movement activities, games, books, art and food tasting to teach the children about healthy activities.
"The program encourages children to eat fruits and vegetables every day and to choose healthy snacks," Sigman-Grant said. "Children learn to eat when they are hungry and to stop when they are full. They learn how physical activity and “go” foods (those you can eat everyday) will help keep their hearts, muscles and bones strong.”
To help connect the family to what is happening in the preschool, a family pack is sent home once a week with activities the child can share with the rest of the family, Byington said. One activity is the “TV Moves Me” coloring book, which encourages families to move together during television commercials, and the “Healthy Snack Hunt” game, which teaches children and their parents healthy snacks are affordable and tasty. During family events, which are held at the preschoolers' child care centers, the parents and children try new foods and dance together.
A 2007 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that Nevadans' consumption of fruit and vegetables was declining and that the prevalence of overweight children from 2-5 years old had increased from 11.6 percent in 1997 to nearly 15 percent in 2006. A survey by Byington of all licensed child care workers in southern Nevada revealed that nine out of 10 felt the issue of overweight children in America is a problem.
All 4 Kids focuses on lower-income preschoolers, who are twice as likely to be overweight than higher-income preschoolers. Extension educators go into child care centers three times a week for eight weeks to teach 3- to 5-year-olds and their teachers a 30-minute lesson on healthy food and the importance of staying active. Each lesson utilizes dance to introduce children to specific movements. Parents attend family events three times during the course of the program and preschool teachers learn ways to extend the All 4 Kids information into their daily curriculum.
The percentage of All 4 Kids children eating fresh fruit at least three times a week increased from 83 percent to nearly 92 percent, and children eating fresh vegetables three times a week jumped from 62 percent to 92 percent.
The All 4 Kids CD/DVD produced specifically for the program has also been popular with participants. Lindsay, who is also a professional musician, enlisted the help of many Las Vegas performers to record different dance music videos, including one with a country-western tempo, another with a Latin beat and one with hip-hop music. Lindsay helped write the video script, compose the songs and plays a mean electric guitar in one of the videos.
The dance choreography incorporates movements that help children meet Pre-Kindergarten standards for physical development. “Preschoolers learn to move their whole bodies, building confidence to promote more successful physical activity experiences when entering grade school,” said Lindsay. As part of the $1.1 million grant, a preschool movement assessment developed to measure movement skills will be tested for reliability. Accelerometers are also used to measure changes in children’s physical activity levels.
The aim of the program is to tackle obesity before it occurs. Sigman-Grant notes that most eating and activity behaviors are established in childhood, and that inadequate and inappropriate food consumption can retard growth, cognitive development, learning and the immune system.
All 4 Kids is also one of the first educational programs to tailor its message to the way children 3- to 5-years-old learn. Most existing nutrition and activity programs focus on elementary school children.
In awarding the $1.1 million grant, NIFA said its goal is to prevent obesity by identifying the behavioral factors that influence it. Hundreds of educational programs have been initiated across the country in recent years as the federal government attempted to get food stamp recipients to use their benefits to purchase healthier foods. Last year the USDA changed the name of the Food Stamp Program to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to reflect its goal of helping recipients eat better and have a healthier lifestyle.
“The health of our nation depends on the health of our families and it’s imperative that we address the obesity crisis impacting our country,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
All 4 Kids is one of several UNCE programs targeting the problem of childhood obesity. (see additional attachment)
For more information on the All 4 Kids program, contact Tara Spann, All 4 Kids Program Officer l, (702) 257-5593, firstname.lastname@example.org.