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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Fifth grade students increase nutrition knowledge with NMSU Just Be It! program

SANTA FE - New Mexico State University's Just Be It! Healthy and Fit obesity prevention program increased the nutrition knowledge of fifth-grade students in Rio Arriba, Santa Fe and Los Alamos counties by 27 percent during the 2006-2007 school year.

"We're really excited about the first year's outcome," said Diana Del Campo, professor and Cooperative Extension Service specialist in child development and family life. "The first year's level of success is a good baseline for the next four years.

"What is significant with this study is that we have a control group of fifth-graders who did not receive the nutrition classes but were tested," she said. "Their increase in knowledge was 4 percent."

The five-year study being conducted by NMSU's College of Agriculture and Home Economics' Cooperative Extension Service home economists enters its second year with nutrition and fitness field trips and individual classroom follow-up sessions. Field trips are scheduled in Santa Fe on Sept. 20, Los Alamos on Sept. 25, Espanola on Sept. 27 and Pojoaque on Oct. 2.

During the field day students participate in four workshops where they learn about the food group pyramid, the nutritional qualities of vegetables and fruits, the three types of exercise and how much activity they should have each day, and how to develop a healthy dietary habit. The students also have an opportunity to taste different fruits and vegetables such as kiwi, jicama, sugar snap peas and red bell pepper to see which they like.

Just Be It! is more than a field trip. When the students return to school they are given a test to demonstrate what they have learned that day. Select classes will have follow-up visits by home economists and nutrition educators to reinforce the information taught during the workshops.

The program also includes eight newsletters for parents and teachers, along with home activities to help extend the learning experience to the entire family.

From a survey sent home in May 2007 parents and teachers reported knowing more about nutrition after reading the newsletters. "There was a knowledge gain reported as a result of distributing the newsletters," said Del Campo. "In addition, almost everyone wrote comments about the program."

Those comments included: "My child liked the healthy snacks and physical games." "My child learned to eat healthier." "Now when we go to the store, we buy more vegetables."

Entering the second year, Del Campo says the study will focus on perfecting the tool they used to find out how many fruits and vegetables the students are eating and how much physical activity they participate in during the week. "We want to try to increase those amounts," she said. "The data from the fruit and vegetable intake and physical activity survey in 2006-2007 were not usable. Students could not accurately remember what they ate or what physical activity they did the previous week. But who among us remembers what they ate or did after a few days."

The program is funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture-Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service grant. Its goal is to establish a curriculum that really does work and can be used by others.