Obesity Prevention for Youth and Special Populations

July 1, 2013, Department, by Hayley Jackson

A Kansas agency provides kids with fun, lasting lessons on nutrition.This past summer, youth enrolled in Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department (LPRD) programming were introduced to a new, innovative nutrition education program. As a Serving Kansas Communities grantee, LPRD received support for its free summer lunch program and training to provide a childhood obesity-prevention curriculum for its camps. LPRD hired a local graduate student to develop the OrganWise Guys program, integrating it into the department’s summer camps to help kids learn about health and nutrition. Essential to the success of the program was that the parks department used interactive lessons to make learning about nutrition a fun experience for the kids.

Although the LPRD’s summer nutrition education began with providing instruction to local kids, program planners quickly realized that the campers were bringing their knowledge home. Parents regularly approached staff to inquire about the new programming, often asking for advice on how to provide a balanced diet to their children. Some parents joked that their kids were giving them a hard time at home about junk food around the house.

In addition to making appearances in the youth camps, the OrganWise Guys program was introduced to and made a strong impression upon Lawrence’s special populations program. Over time, this group developed great interest in nutrition education. This was a particularly important success for LPRD as children with disabilities are known to be less physically active and at greater risk for obesity. The program has drawn the parks department’s attention to the fact that it must continually strive to provide the same lifestyle opportunities to the special populations as other populations.

LPRD staff consider their summer 2012 work with the OrganWise Guys program a huge success. Compared to the previous year, the department increased the number of healthy summer meals served to children in the community by nearly 35 percent. Although funded by the grant, LPRD does not see the end of summer as a stopping point but plans to integrate nutrition education into more programming. Participating in the Serving Kansas Communities program has laid a foundation for the community’s continued commitment to fighting obesity and promoting active lifestyles. In cooperation with the K-State Research and Extension Office of Douglas County, which provided food models and programming guidance over the course of the summer, LPRD now plans to use the OrganWise Guys curriculum year-round.

Click here to learn more about the Serving Kansas Communities program and read additional success stories.

Lessons Learned from Lawrence
• At the close of the Serving Kansas Communities program, the Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department emphasized the need to be creative in how program coordinators present educational materials. It is important to keep lessons interesting for all kids. Consider giving your older campers more responsibility and allowing them to help with presenting materials. This allows the older campers to become role models for the younger campers.
• LPRD attributes much of their success to a knowledgeable and motivated staff. It is crucial to find individuals who have a strong background with and enthusiasm for the material.
• Trying to change habits takes more than a summer, but this has proved to be a program that can help make strides in the community’s overall physical activity and nutrition. Thus, LPRD will continue to promote the materials on a year-round basis and certainly in next year’s summer programs.

Hayley Jackson is NRPA’s Research Assistant.