Childhood Wellness Research Conducted by Doctoral Student Marshall
Doctoral student and graduate assistant Vanessa Marshall is working with Children’s Hunger Alliance (CHA), Akron Children’s Hospital (ACH) and local elementary and middle schools in Akron and Cleveland on a two-year pilot disease intervention program to help reduce obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease in Northeastern Ohio.
With $150,000 in funding from the Ohio Commission on Minority Health, CHA, ACH and Kent State are working with more than 100 children and their parents or caregivers to implement a comprehensive physical fitness and nutrition program. It uses two curricula: the Coordinated Approach to Child Health (CATCH) program, which is an evidence-based school health program designed to promote child fitness, and the Food Folks Nutrition Curriculum, an interactive program for after-school settings designed by CHA to educate about a healthy diet.
Kent State’s role is data collection and evaluation, and Marshall is project coordinator, supervised by R. Scott Olds, H.S.D., professor and interim chair, Social & Behavioral Sciences. We conduct pre- and post-test and monthly data-collection sessions with the children and parents,” explains Marshall. “The children and parents complete questionnaires on diet and physical activity knowledge, attitudes and behaviors. The children’s fitness levels are assessed using pushups to measure muscular endurance and the sit-and-reach test to measure muscular flexibility. We also collect the children’s height, weight, blood pressure and blood glucose,” she adds. The wellness curricula are implemented for four to six months by staff from AmeriCorps. In addition, registered dietitians provide nutrition lessons for the parents. “Our overall goal is to look for long-term behavioral change by improving nutrition and physical activity behaviors for families, especially empowering them to develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle, which ideally will reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease,” Marshall says.
In addition to data collection, Marshall assists with data entry, analysis and report preparation. “She’s done an incredible job of organizing the data, which is reported on paper in the field and transferred into an electronic database for analysis,” says Olds. “She’s also done a great job of keeping everyone informed about the data collection progress and evaluation,” he says. Findings of the two-year study will be reported in early July. “One of things we are learning is that there are huge challenges in the presentation and delivery of fitness and nutrition programs in these settings, especially with respect to recruiting and retaining participants,” says Olds.
The collaborators are seeking funding to continue the program when pilot funding ends in June.