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NMSU Extension healthy lifestyle program for fifth-grade students receives national honor

SANTA FE, N.M. - A New Mexico State University program that promotes healthy lifestyles by reducing risk factors for childhood obesity has received national recognition.

Just Be It! Healthy & Fit is a healthy lifestyle program for youth and their families. The program is conducted by NMSU Cooperative Extension Service home economists in Santa Fe, Rio Arriba and Los Alamos counties. It has received the national Family Health and Wellness Award given through the National Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences.

The award recognizes innovative programs that promote and improve the health and wellness of families.

"I am so pleased that we received this honor," said Desaree Jimenez, Rio Arriba County Extension home economist. "We put five years into researching, piloting and developing the curriculum for the JBI program, and it is really a great feeling to have that effort recognized on a national level, as well as having a curriculum that was developed in New Mexico."

During an eight-year period, 2005-2012, more than 5,260 fifth-graders participated in the Just Be It! Healthy & Fit program, which includes a one-day field trip and weekly in-classroom lessons conducted by the Extension home economists.

"The field trip experience consists of four workshops where the students learn about the food groups and how to read the nutrition label, and participate in aerobic exercises," said Paula Roybal Sanchez, Los Alamos County Extension home economist.

The 11 classroom lessons focus on U.S. Department of Agriculture Dietary Guidelines, portion control, healthy snack preparation, physical activity, food safety and diabetes prevention.

"Because the Just Be It! curriculum is aligned to the New Mexico Physical Activity and Health Standards and Benchmarks, it provides teachers with a tool to meet these requirements," Sanchez said. "Students complete pre- and post-tests on nutrition and fitness knowledge, activity level and fruit and vegetable intake."

The program is not limited to the students. Their parents receive nutrition education through the year via take-home newsletters that include "Let's Talk," designed to foster discussion between parents and their children about ways to make healthy food choices.

"Parents report that they too have gained knowledge from these newsletters and what their children share with them from the classes," said Jacqueline Baca, Santa Fe County Extension home economist. "One parent told us her family makes special trips to the grocery store so that they can make the snacks at home. She added that the program has made a difference for her child."