Medical student's project aims to track youngsters' fitness
MILTON -- Kim Cooper wants more for the children in his charge than he had as a youngster.
That's why Cooper, principal at Milton Elementary School, has wholeheartedly embraced a new project by fourth-year Marshall medical student Becca Hayes focusing on childhood obesity and physical fitness.
"This is not the first time we've done something to try to help combat obesity. You wouldn't believe the amount of type 1 and type 2 diabetes we see," Cooper said. "Maybe if this had been in effect years ago, I wouldn't be diabetic today."
The program started in Hayes' mind as a community service project to get more medical students and physicians involved with the local school system. Armed with 1,000 pedometers donated by the Hoops Family Children's Hospital at Cabell Huntington Hospital and the encouragement of her peers and mentors, Hayes turned the community service project into a research-based one, and set out to collect data on 1,200 or so first- through fifth-graders at Salt Rock, Milton, Crum and East Lynn elementary schools.
"We decided since I had so many pedometers to go ahead and try to collect data for the research aspect, so I rolled with that idea," said Hayes, who is assisted on the project by second-year resident Lauren Thompson. Hayes has two physicians lending support, as well as 12 to 15 medical student volunteers working on the project.
Hayes applied for and received a $24,000 grant through the Higher Education Policy Commission's Rural Health Initiative. The grant gave her flexibility in research, with the lone requirement that students in rural schools must be included. She selected Salt Rock as her control school, where she collected data but did not distribute pedometers, and Milton, Crum and East Lynn as the other participants.
On Tuesday, Hayes and a group of volunteers collected data at Milton Elementary School, measuring resting pulse and then pulse rate following a two-minute run. The pedometers were distributed and will be worn at school, even by teachers, with in-class games, incentives and friendly competition that measures the distance walked by comparing it to a giant map of West Virginia.
Hayes also convinced administrators to add an additional six minutes of physical activity a day for students on top of recess and gym requirements, such as running in place or jumping jacks.
"We want to get the kids up moving and keep them healthy," Cooper said. "We're not just here for academics, but the total child."
In three months, and again in six months, Hayes will collect data from the same participating schools and measure it against the control group. She said she hopes to see increased physical fitness, lower pulse rate following exercise and students with the ability to run more laps in the same amount of time. Her plan, she offered, is to try to apply for larger, federal grants to encompass all Cabell and Wayne County schools and to work more closely with teachers and principals to promote physical fitness during the school day.
Cooper said it's another baby step for his school, which already offers two salad bars for students through the Farm to School program and encourages the kids to raise their own food at home.
"For years it's been 'thank God for Mississippi,' because they're always ranked worse than we are, but we want to combat childhood obesity and make things better," Cooper said. "Obesity can cause lifelong problems. If we get them started right here -- better eating habits, more exercise -- they can live a better life overall."
Follow H-D reporter Beth Hendricks on Facebook or Twitter @BethHendricksHD.
The Herald-Dispatch welcomes your comments on this article, but please be civil. Avoid profanity, obscenity, personal attacks, accusations of criminal activity, name-calling or insults to the other posters. Herald-dispatch.com does not control or monitor comments as they are posted, but if you find a comment offensive or uncivil, hover your mouse over the comment and click the X that appears in the upper right of the comment. If you do not want your comment to post to your personal Facebook page, uncheck the box below the comment.