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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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New Mexico State University and Las Cruces Public Schools team up to fight obesity

Las Cruces elementary students are learning how to combat obesity in their everyday lives through a program coordinated by New Mexico State University faculty member Kim Oliver.

is partnering with the Las Cruces Public Schools to address the physical activity and nutrition needs of children.

In the first year of the partnership, Oliver, an associate professor in the Physical Education, Recreation and Dance Department, has seen Las Cruces students improve their abdominal muscle strength by 11 percent, their arm and shoulder strength by 20 percent and their participation and physical activity by 14.3 percent.

The Las Cruces Health and Physical Activity Initiative used fitness testing and surveys to gauge student progress in its first year. The results showed a three percent cardiovascular improvement among second, third and fourth graders. In fifth graders, there was a 5.5 percent improvement in fitness knowledge and a 6.5 percent increase in positive attitudes toward fitness.

Through a $994,129 grant from the U.S. Department of Education, a three-year program was developed to help the Las Cruces Public School District combat high obesity rates by implementing ways to help children become more active and to help physical education teachers become more effective.

The Carol M. White Physical Education Program Grant is the only funding of its kind, with more than 1,700 applicants vying for funds to support strides in physical education. NMSU was one of about 250 applicants to receive the grant.

The focus of the three-year grant is to help improve the health of children in Las Cruces, which has more than 69 percent Hispanic children and youth. According to the Center for Disease Control, Hispanic children have the highest rates of obesity, are 25.9 percent less likely to participate in organized activity and 11.2 percent more likely to report no moderate to vigorous activity compared with their white, non-Hispanic counterparts. In New Mexico, 33 percent of students consider themselves slightly or very overweight.

Oliver was instrumental in acquiring the funding to help students become more involved in a healthy lifestyle.

"This program is designed to get kids to be physically active and is geared toward helping them remain physically fit throughout life," Oliver said. "Through this program, they will learn how to do this on their own."

The program, which is in its second year and has been implemented in 23 schools, has two main goals. The first is to "help students become more physically fit, more active, more knowledgeable about health-related fitness and healthy eating habits, and develop more positive attitudes toward physical activity, " according to the grant proposal. The second is to help LCPS physical education teachers implement the Coordinated Approach to Child Health (CATCH) PE curriculum, which is a federally funded research-based curriculum.

The CATCH curriculum focuses on the improvement of basic motor skills that are needed in any physical activity. It shows students how to monitor their own activity and skills.

For more information about the program, contact Oliver at (505) 646-4074.