WHITE HALL – Two by two, students from White Hall Elementary School entered the computer lab Thursday.
There they were met by Jamie Carrier, an adult nutrition outreach instructor for WVU’s Family Nutrition Program. Carrier checked each participating child’s height and weight, as well as their necks for signs of early onset diabetes.
“It is typically just a free health screening,” Carrier said. “It just highlights the predispositions to cardiac disease, obesity and diabetes. These parents can then take these screenings to the family doctor and say ‘Can we follow up with this?’
“It raises awareness, which basically is what it is for.”
White Hall Elementary is the first school in Marion County to be screened through the WV Cardiac Project, which is offered through the WVU Extension Service to certain counties each year. The purpose of the Project is to catch signs of diabetes or heart disease in students early, so they can change their eating or exercise habits to proactively intercept any future health problems.
“They only choose so many counties per year to implement this in,” Carrier said. “I think they typically choose 10 to 11, I think there was 11 last year, and the results were staggering. They found almost 37 percent were near obesity.”
With so many adults in West Virginia experiencing obesity and the problems that come along with it, the WVU Extension Service and its Family Nutrition Program are working to slow its growth in children.
To achieve this goal, officials are providing free screenings, as well as workshops and classes to teach parents how to establish healthy eating habits.
“The program was first developed to combat high levels of obesity but also high levels of high blood pressure of kids in our state as well,” said Emily Murphy, obesity prevention specialist for the WVU Extension Service. “We also make available different interventions as well for kids who are at high risk.”
Murphy said the program, supported by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program from the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, is offered free because low-income families may not be able to afford them otherwise, and they may have difficulties affording healthy foods.
“It’s kind of a perfect marriage because socioeconomic status can affect cardio health,” Murphy said. “A lot of people don’t even realize obesity is not just a cosmetic issue, it’s a health issue and it puts people at risk for heart disease.”
The workshops are free to families who qualify as well, so the problems that could arise from weight gain can be curbed.
“If it comes up that we do find that a kid is at high risk for obesity, the family can receive free nutritional counseling to determine a better diet, to implement better habits,” Carrier said.
Nan Murray, principal of White Hall Elementary, said she gladly welcomes the project to the school, and has worked with WVU Extension in the past.
“I have worked with them in the past in my classroom and have been so pleased,” Murray said. “They had done lessons in my classroom at Jayenne and West Fairmont Middle, then they came out and said they wanted to do the Cardiac Project, I jumped on it.”
Having past experience with this program in particular, Murray said she is expecting some positive outcomes from this Cardiac Project as well.
“I knew what good results we have had prior,” Murray said. “Today it’s a weigh-in and looking at their attributes to see [Body Mass Index] and some other things for early onset diabetes.”
Once students from grades one through five are all examined, Carrier and the WVU Extension Service will notify the parents of students who may be at-risk for cardiac issues. Carrier said she leads workshops and lessons on nutritional habits, and those who take the course can expect not only good education, but a good time.
“We do a nine-week nutrition course,” Carrier said. “We cover everything from shopping on a budget to reading labels to implementing the MyPlate plan to make sure you get all the nutritional requirements you need. It’s really hands-on and we have a great time.”
According to the USDA, the MyPlate Plan creates a food plan that is personalized, based on a person’s age, sex, height, weight, and level of physical activity.
The WVU Extension Service will take the WV Cardiac Project to other qualifying Marion County schools over the next month.