Obesity Prevention for Youth and Special Populations: A Kansas Agency Provides Kids with Fun, Lasting Lessons on Nutrition

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This past summer, youth enrolled in Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department (LPRD) programming were introduced to a new, innovative nutrition education program. As a Serving Kansas Communities grantee, LPRD received support for its free summer lunch program and training to provide a childhood obesity-prevention curriculum for its camps. LPRD hired a local graduate student to develop the OrganWise Guys program, integrating it into the department's summer camps to help kids learn about health and nutrition. Essential to the success of the program was that the parks department used interactive lessons to make learning about nutrition a fun experience for the kids.

Although the LPRD's summer nutrition education began with providing instruction to local kids, program planners quickly realized that the campers were bringing their knowledge home. Parents regularly approached staff to inquire about the new programming, often asking for advice on how to provide a balanced diet to their children. Some parents joked that their kids were giving them a hard time at home about junk food around the house.

In addition to making appearances in the youth camps, the Organ-Wise Guys program was introduced to and made a strong impression upon Lawrence's special populations program. Over time, this group developed great interest in nutrition education. This was a particularly important success for LPRD as children with disabilities are known to be less physically active and at greater risk for obesity. The program has drawn the parks department's attention to the fact that it must continually strive to provide the same lifestyle opportunities to the special populations as other populations.

LPRD staff consider their summer 2012 work with the OrganWise Guys program a huge success. Compared to the previous year, the department increased the number of healthy summer meals served to children in the community by nearly 35 percent. …