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A school-based weight loss/exercise program can reduce weight among low-income black children

One-third of blacks living in Louisiana are obese, a condition that often begins in childhood. A Louisiana school-based program, a free alternative physical education (PE) class, shows that it is possible to conduct a weight loss/exercise program in a public school setting for low-income black children. Beth Edwards, R.N., M.S.N., of Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center conducted a pilot program, supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS11834), at a middle school with a school-based health center (SBHC).

One-fourth of the 279 children (most of them black) enrolled in the SBHC were overweight or obese, that is, at or above the 95th percentile of the sex- and age-based growth chart. Of these children, 28 eighth-graders attended a Food and Fitness 101 class, which met for 1.5 hours every other day for the school year as an alternative to the mandatory PE class. Each class period consisted of a warm-up and stretching period, 25 minutes of aerobic activities, and a cool-down period. These were followed by interactive classroom activities designed to increase nutritional education (for example, they used teaspoons of butter-flavored shortening to calculate the amount of fat in typical fast food meals).

To encourage exercise, children were given the use of pedometers and earned incentives for "mileage" walked outside of class time, such as water park and movie passes. Parents were invited to participate in class, and dietary information was sent home on a regular basis. Of the 13 students who finished the class, 5 ended with lower body mass indexes (BMIs), with a total weight loss of 33.25 pounds. Among the 14 children in the control group (regular PE class), 3 ended with lower BMIs, with a total weight loss of 6.5 pounds.

See "Childhood obesity: A school-based approach to increase nutritional knowledge and activity levels," by Ms. Edwards, in the December 2005 Nursing Clinics of North America 40(4), pp. 661-669.

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