Facility Profile - January 2010
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Recreation Fights Diabetes

Wise Kids Program in Corpus Christi, Texas


Reaching the Entire Family

"The twist that it brought in terms of being able to show the kids how the food they put in their body impacts them and their ability to play was really interesting to the staff," Morin said. "In addition, this training segment showed them how Wise Kids would make their jobs pretty easy with the colorful workbooks and posters, the pedometers and a calendar of activities."

When the program was rolled out in September, the children and even the parents embraced the enthusiasm of the leaders.

"The staff at our Houston Elementary site really embraced the program, and they figured out ways to involve the parents or guardians through weekly celebrations and an opportunity at the end of the program for parents to bring in healthy snacks and play together with their children," Talbert said. "They kind of lived the 'energy in, energy out' philosophy for the day and it was really exciting."

Best of all, according to Morin the kids at all of the sites took the lessons home with them. "The kids were completely engaged in the program, and this filtered back to their parents. They were coming in and asking our site supervisors, 'What are you teaching my child? We went to the grocery store yesterday and they told me that we couldn't buy the junk food anymore,'" Morin said. "They were very pleased that we were helping to change their children's eating habits, something that parents are always trying to do. Even on days when the program wasn't being conducted, the children would still want to wear their pedometers."

Best of all, Corpus Christi had some strong evaluation data to back up the anecdotal success. Post-program testing at the Joe Garza Recreation Center revealed that the percentage of kids who believe that doing physically active things like riding bikes and playing with friends was important rose 44 points, from 52 percent at the beginning of the program to 96 percent at the end. Moreover, there was a 20-point increase in the percentage of children eating breakfast, choosing healthy snacks and enjoying fruits and vegetables. In addition, at the nearby Calk Center the number of children who said that they choose to be physically active because it is fun rose from 59 percent to 81 percent.

Wise Kids wrapped up at the first five sites in early December 2008, and soon thereafter Talbert and Morin decided to extend it to five more sites in the spring semester. Following that, they hope to obtain another grant to bring new Säjai Foundation programming, Wise Kids Outdoors, to their summer program.

The Wise Kids Outdoors program leads children through 20 supervised outdoor adventures to learn about animals, the weather, the Earth and more. In addition, it connects nature to health, so that kids learn the importance of a balanced life that includes being active outdoors and eating well.

"When people examine the problem of childhood obesity, they focus on the related issues of physical inactivity and nutrition," Hanson said. "They say, 'Why don't kids today get off the couch and play the way we used to in the outdoors?' The problem is that many of these kids have never had someone introduce them to the outdoors, so they have little appreciation for the beauty and appeal of the natural world. We believe Wise Kids Outdoors can be the spark that gets kids off the couch and into the outdoors under the safe supervision of youth program leaders. It shows them that experiencing nature can be much more fun, healthy and rewarding than another afternoon of watching television or playing video games."

Having initiated a dialogue with their kids about their health and wellness, Talbert is reluctant to step back. "We believe that Wise Kids can teach children a new way of looking at their health, and put them in control of their eating habits and activity patterns. These are skills that they will hopefully keep for life."


FOR MORE INFORMATION

Corpus Christi Parks and Recreation: www.ccparkandrec.org

Säjai Foundation: www.sajaifoundation.org