Technology may be blamed for contributing to the childhood obesity epidemic, but LSU AgCenter extension agents are using it to help combat the problem.
Nutrition agents in Webster Parish will use iPads® to teach third-graders at J.L. Jones health and nutrition lessons with a program called "Body Quest, Food for the Warrior."
Developed by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Body Quest introduces students to anime-style characters through iPad apps that help students learn about healthy lifestyles.
"The primary goals are to increase fruit and vegetable consumption, increase physical activity, improve sleep habits and enhance family involvement," said Diane Sasser, LSU AgCenter family development specialist.
The program will last 10 weeks, and during that time the students will get to know the Body Quest Warriors such as Shining Rainbow, Graino Supa, Fiberlicious and Muscle Max. Each character has a different healthful message.
"There is also Trans Fat Cat," Sasser said. "When he shows up in any of the apps, you have to try to get rid of him."
Sasser said agents will do pre- and post-tests to see how the children's knowledge and attitudes change throughout the program. The students will use clicker devices during class to answer questions, and these responses will be recorded to help monitor what they are learning.
A teacher in the school also will gather daily information about what the youngsters are choosing to eat from the school lunch.
Funding for the program comes from a $1.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – Education, or SNAP Ed, the AgCenter received for this and other nutrition programs.
Sasser said schools involved in the program must have at least half of their students eligible for free or reduced lunch. The aim of the program is to changes habits and attitudes to help prevent these children from becoming overweight or obese adults.
An added benefit of the program is exposing children to new technologies. Sasser said many of these students don't have access to iPads.
Webster Parish Extension Agent Joan Almond, is working with Nutrition Educator LaDonna Chreene to introduce the program to Jones' third graders.
"We are one of only 10 parishes in the state that were selected for this program," Almond said. "It's pretty exciting, the LSU AgCenter was able to purchase 35 iPads for Webster Parish kids in this program."
Each Friday, the nutrition team meets with a group of approximately 30 children to involve them in the Body Quest program.
Principal Dusty Rowland and teacher Shannon Hall said they are very supportive of the program. Hall said she has had many positive comments from the participating students.
For participating in the program, students receive a tee-shirt and a Body Quest Warrior bracelet to remind them to eat healthy and exercise each day.
Once the pilot is complete and data collected, the Body Quest educators hope to expand the program to two other Webster Parish schools next year.