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Kids to Farmers' Market Program Combats Childhood Obesity

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese in 2010. Obese youths are at higher risk for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, bone and joint problems, and sleep apnea. Social and psychological problems such as poor self-esteem and being ostracized by peers also are worse with obesity. In addition, obese youths are more likely to be obese as adults, when they would be subject to the same health risks.

A healthy lifestyle, focusing on good eating and exercise, is the best strategy for obesity prevention. Communities, schools, and medical care providers can all influence these behaviors in children. To that end, on behalf of Jay A. Perman, MD, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB), Jennifer Litchman, MA, special assistant to Perman and chief communications officer and vice president in the Office of Communications and Public Affairs, assembled a UMB/University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) team to create the Kids to Farmers' Market project, which focuses on improving the eating habits and physical activity of inner city schoolchildren on Baltimore's Westside.

The team, assembled in 2012, has so far planned and executed two successful Kids to Farmers' Market seasons. The program's initial goals were to expose the children to local, sustainable foods, and to teach them about the benefits of eating fresh fruits and vegetables. During the past year, the team offered more educational sessions in two local schools, with a focus on healthy eating and physical activity. Here's how the program works: A University bus brings a fourth- or fifth-grade class, along with teachers and chaperones, to the weekly farmers' market in University Plaza,. The Kids to Farmers' Market team gives each student a backpack stuffed with healthy-eating information, seasonal fruit and vegetable recipes, and $10 of "farmers' market bucks" that can be used to buy items. The children are divided into three groups: one group shops, one attends a chef's cooking demonstration, and one goes to a nutrition class led by a registered dietitian or nutrition intern. The groups rotate until all students complete each activity. At the end of the session, the types of foods the students bought are documented, and each child receives a healthy lunch to take back to school.

The shopping: In the first year, the children were told to limit their market purchases to fruits and vegetables. The first question a student asked was, "Can I buy the pickles?" Since pickles are vegetables, the answer was "yes." This year, the children were allowed to buy anything at the market, with the hope that after being educated about healthy eating, they would make more fruit and vegetable choices. There were too many temptations though, so next year the rules might need to be reconsidered.

The children chatted with the farmers, asking them about the locations of their farms and the types of crops they grow. The farmers often gave the students a piece of fruit to try, or reduced the prices of their produce. The children asked questions about odd-looking vegetables, and they talked about ways their families cook vegetables at home. While the students shopped, the UMB/UMMC team shared healthy cooking ideas.

The chef's demo: Danielle Clair, catering chef at CulinArt dining services, developed an interactive component of the Kids to Farmers' Market program. By preparing a seasonal recipe and explaining each step, she taught the children cooking techniques while describing each ingredient as she went along. Recipes she prepared and offered for tasting included watermelon salad kabobs, cheesy spaghetti squash, and pumpkin dip with fresh apples. One student was hesitant to taste the spaghetti squash, but after high-spirited cheering from his classmates, he ate some and said it was "pretty good." Many of the children were excited to share the recipes with their families.

The nutrition class: UMMC dietetic interns and registered dietitians developed and presented the class this year, emphasizing the following: benefits of eating local and seasonal fruits and vegetables from a farmers' market, the need to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables of different colors, and the importance of making the plate for every meal be half fruits and vegetables (www.choosemyplate.gov). Some of the questions asked by the children were: "Are any fruits and vegetables good for your eyes?" "How do fruits and vegetables help us play sports?" "What's the difference between canned and fresh fruit and vegetables?"

This year, to supplement the healthy lifestyle messages of Kids to Farmers' Market, team members went to the two schools and led nutrition education, physical fitness instruction, and herb and vegetable planting activities. The program also presented Foodplay, a school assembly program that showcased the benefits of healthy eating habits and active lifestyles through music, magic, and live theater. The Kids to Farmers' Market team is evaluating the program's effectiveness before the farmer's market reopens this spring. "Our hope is that this UMB/UMMC initiative will enable us to make a meaningful difference in the health of schoolchildren right here in our own neighborhood," says Litchman.

The UMB members of the team are Litchman; Office of Communications and Public Affairs staff members Holly Baier, assistant director of special events, Saifa Bikim-Edeze, office manager, and Nancy Gordon, executive director of protocol and special events; Greer Huffman, community outreach coordinator, Office of the President; and Brian Sturdivant, MSW, director of strategic initiatives and community partnerships, Office of Government and Community Affairs.

The UMMC team members are Denise Choiniere, materials management director; Christine Dobmeier, RD, LDN, CSR, senior nutrition specialist; Justin Graves, RN, BSN, sustainability coordinator; LaVette Jackson, customer service program coordination; Ellen Loreck, MS, RD, LDN, director, clinical nutrition services; and Anne Williams, DNP, RN, senior manager, community empowerment and health education.
Posting Date: 01/24/2014
Contact Name: Ellen Loreck
Contact Phone: 410-328-6699
Contact Email: eloreck@umm.edu