By Natalie Conrad
Herald Staff Writer
Children are getting active and eating healthy in an effort to tip the scales on childhood obesity.
Whiteside County’s health department is implementing new programs to address the growing problem in the area and the nation.
Students at Saint Mary’s School in Sterling, Ill., and Saint Andrew Catholic School in Rock Falls, Ill., will undergo a special pilot program for childhood obesity. Second and third graders will learn the key to maintaining a healthy weight through lessons in both nutrition and physical activity through the program facilitated by Whiteside County Health Department.
The department has been awarded a grant by the American Cancer Society to implement a Childhood Obesity Pilot Project in the community. This pilot project addresses the public health problem of excess weight and obesity in youth ages 2 to 18. As a pilot project, the health department will develop a curriculum, including materials and program goals that can all be easily replicated in other communities.
“Whiteside has a high rate of obesity at that age and at this point the parents are still making decisions for the kids,” Whiteside County Public Health Director Marcia Widolff said. “This is the perfect age to reach out.”
Through the one year grant, youngsters will learn six different curriculums during the six-week program including lessons on portions, replacing screen time and physical activities such as jumping rope and skipping. With each lesson, students will bring home lessons to work on with their parents in effort to educate not only the children, but the adults affected by obesity as well.
“This is a problem for both the children and adults and we hope that learning extends to families,” Widolff said.
According to a recent community assessment performed in Whiteside County, 27 percent of adults consider themselves to be obese, while 36.6 percent of area residents consider themselves overweight, numbers both higher than that of Illinois. The recent County Health Rankings placed Whiteside County much higher than both Illinois and the national benchmarks in obesity and physical inactivity. Obesity is one of Whiteside County’s community goals and this project will provide obesity prevention education to youth in the community.
Evaluation is key with the pilot program in order to determine what is the most effective way to tackle the problem. Children and parents will fill out evaluations before and after the program as well as a follow up three months later.
“I am anxious to see how the evaluation goes and what we can incorporate into potential future programs,” Widolff said.
Money spent on prevention often reduces the costs of treatment in the future. Helping to establish good nutrition and physical activity habits at an impressionable age will provide life-long behavior changes for students and result in reduced overall health care costs of chronic disease, according to Widolff.
“This is a topic we are very passionate about,” Widolff said. “Money spent on prevention really pays off in the long run. We are hoping to start a trend.”
For more information on this Childhood Obesity Pilot Project, please contact Whiteside County Health Department at (815) 626-2230 or visit www.whitesidehealth.org.