Testing Obesity Prevention with New York City Fifth Graders | Teachers College Columbia University

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Testing Obesity Prevention with New York City Fifth Graders

TC's Isobel Contento and Pamela Koch to lead USDA-funded study in 20 public schools
Teachers College has received a three-year $1.497 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop a science education and nutrition curriculum and evaluate its effectiveness in preventing obesity in some 2,000 low-income, predominantly minority fifth graders at 20 New York City public schools.
Isobel Contento, Mary Swartz Rose Professor in Nutrition and Education, and Pamela Koch, Executive Director of TC’s Center for Food & Environment, are the principal investigators for the project. The curriculum they are developing for this grant, “Food, Health & Choices,” is an adaptation of their middle-school curriculum that has been evaluated, with positive results in changing eating and activity behaviors, in both New York City and Michigan. The curriculum incorporates science concepts and social cognitive and self-determination theories, focusing on empowering students to make healthy choices. It will make extensive use of Contento’s book, Nutrition Education: Linking Research, Theory and Practice, published in 2007, with a second edition coming out later this month.
This new study extends the previous work of Contento and Koch in that the curriculum will be accompanied by implementation in the participating schools of “wellness policy” that promotes healthy snacks, regular physical activity and other changes in both the school and fifth grade classroom environment.
Children participating in the study will be evaluated, both prior to the study and afterward, for their height, weight and body fat; for changes in their eating behaviors and levels of physical activity; and for improvements in their knowledge of healthy nutrition and fitness practices.
“This is the generation of children who are expected to have shorter lifespans than their parents,” says Contento. “The prediction is that one-third will develop diabetes in their lifetimes, with consequences that will include workplace absenteeism, poor vision, and difficulty in walking. So it’s critically important that we develop and evaluate education and policy approaches that will lead to more positive outcomes.”
A pilot of the study will begin this coming fall in eight city classrooms. The full study begins in fall 2011, with five schools receiving both the curriculum and wellness policy interventions; five receiving just the curriculum; five receiving just the wellness policy; and five receiving neither. (The schools that receive neither will then receive both as “delayed controls” in 2012.) One major goal of the study is to determine whether the curriculum and wellness policy together create a synergistic effect that is more positive than either alone.
The schools that will participate in the study have not yet been selected, but Contento and Koch hope to work in schools where TC has existing partnerships.

Published Monday, May. 10, 2010


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