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Children Engage in 'Better My Identity' Activities to Improve Nutrition, Fitness

Nearly 40 children learned about safety, nutrition and wellness and had fun exercising - trying out yoga and Zumba - during a health fair conducted by University of Maryland students and faculty from the School of Medicine (SOM) and the School of Social Work (SSW).

Held at Historic Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (HSCT) Elementary School, the fair drew children between the ages of 4 and 12 who live in the surrounding community of Upton/Druid Heights. That neighborhood is served by Promise Heights, a SSW-led initiative in which several schools at the University collaborate with public, private, and faith-based partners to improve families' lives.

SOM assistant professor Yvette Rooks, MD, CAQ, FAAFP, offered the fair-goers a program called Better My Identity (BMI) a nutrition and fitness initiative of the School's Department of Family and Community Medicine, though a grant to combat pediatric obesity. The grant is funded by the American Academy of Family Medicine, AIM-HI program, Americans In Motion - Healthy Initiatives. The grant was awarded to the SOM Family and Community Medicine Residency Training Program in 2011.

"Better My Identity has been a vital addition to our residency training program as our residents are now equipped with the tools to inquire and educate children of our practice about wellness with a focus on nutrition and physical activity," said Rooks, who was assisted by several family medicine residents and a medical student. "Our Saturday morning program has been a great success and the children and parents who have participated are making great healthy changes in their lives.

"

Upon arrival at HSCT, each child received a "passport" and set out to fill in the blanks with personal health information such as Body Mass Index and blood pressure by visiting the health care providers at the fair. Children took turns getting measured for height and stepped onto the scales to be weighed.

Making their way from one room to the next, children acquired stickers on their passports by engaging in activities intended to help them get fit, keep safe, and stay well. They learned about nutrition in a section where playing with your food was not against the rules. Kids could eat the cereal or turn it into a craft project. SSW students and staff members helped the children string necklaces. The social workers also taught proper hand-washing techniques to avoid getting sick or spreading germs.

In the yoga classroom, instructor Emily Borczak demonstrated several poses and helped children improve their balance by using a long feather as a prop. The skills left an impression on Autumn Atkinson, 4, who was accompanied to the fair by her father, Mark Atkinson. "Do you want to see me do the tree pose?" she asked him, standing on one foot. Next was the tiger pose, as Autumn was eager to show him and fair organizers what she had learned in yoga.

The room that was devoted to Zumba, an aerobic dance, drew the most festive crowd as youngsters exercised to the music. They were led by Tisha Guthrie, MSW '11, who is an instructor at University Recreation & Fitness and was involved in the University's Childhood Obesity Summit in 2011.

Many of the youngsters have been attending summer activities at HSCT elementary, which is a partner in the Promise Heights initiative. Candace Baker, MSW' 11, Community Resource Schools site coordinator at HSCT, was among the fair's organizers. Others from the SSW involved in the fair were student Liz Buchanan, Rachel Donegan, JD, programs coordinator, Promise Heights; and Gillian Gregory, LCSW-C, Community Resource Schools site coordinator for F.L. Templeton Preparatory Academy.

Representing the SOM were Charlotte Watts, a fourth-year student, and second-year residents in Family and Community Medicine Marshala Lee, MD, and Chelsea Cosby, MD, who helped to develop the BMI program. Andreas Mitchell, senior student at Washington University in St. Louis who is working with Rooks during a summer community medicine internship in Baltimore, also assisted.

Plenty of medical information went home to families. Literature on asthma awareness and treatment was distributed by the Baltimore City Health Department. The department's program, B'more for Healthy Babies, a partner of Promise Heights in the Upton/Druid Hill neighborhood, was represented by Stacey Stephens, LCSW-C, director. B'more tackled tobacco cessation.

Posting Date: 07/25/2012
Contact Name: Patricia Fanning
Contact Phone: 410-706-7946
Contact Email: pfanning@umaryland.edu