Initiative begins with kids in effort to promote health

February 15, 2005

Bulletin Staff Writer

The Healthy Community Initiative funded by The Harvest Foundation is trying different methods and activities to prevent disease and promote wellness in the community.

Kirsten Barrett, a senior research associate at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, said The Harvest Foundation hired her to be a health consultant and to help Diane Ramey, project director of the initiative that was started in September.

"Our mission is promoting health and wellness among the community, and our initial focus is addressing risk factors for chronic disease in youth," Barrett said. "We hope to expand that to other segments of the community."

Barrett and Ramey said they are thinking of different ways to get the community involved in events that promote wellness. They are considering a family walking program, an aerobics program for mothers and their daughters and nutritional counseling sessions with families. They also are waiting to hear if they won grant money which would enable them to offer golf lessons to disadvantaged children.

One event already planned is "Fun with Foods" on Feb. 24 at the West Piedmont Business Development Center. Local nutritionists will teach parents and their children how to make healthy snacks using foods such as yogurt, fruit and granola, Barrett said.

Ramey also said she hopes to start a "Food Store Tour" in March. About 10 adults at a time will be led through a local grocery store for about 30 minutes and shown by a nutritionist what products are healthy and which ones are not.

"Each adult will get a $5 gift certificate at the grocery store to use towards the purchase of a healthy product at the time of the tour," she said.

The initiative has been involved at various after-school program sites, providing activities such as dance pads, an interactive dance exercise, and Hot-Shot-Blitz Relay.

"Hot-Shot-Blitz Relay is when children play three on three basketball and have three minutes to see which team can score the most points by shooting the ball into the basket," said Deirdre Moyer, the new activities coordinator for the initiative.

Ramey said she is planning to send a survey home with parents of children in after-school programs seeking suggestions on ways to increase family wellness. She said they did an initial assessment of 560 children in county and city after-school programs run by the YMCA, Boys & Girls Club and Carlisle School in September and October of last year.

From that assessment, she said 235 students, or 42 percent, of the children in those programs are overweight or obese. Ramey said she would like to find a way to screen all the children in Henry County and Martinsville, and she is open to suggestions on how to do so.

Henry County Schools' nurse Sharon Hooker, who works at Bassett High School, Sanville Elementary School and the Center for Community Learning, said school nurses may be a resource for screening all children.

"We could be involved in a program to screen students in teams somehow," Hooker said. "We currently screen students in certain grade levels each year."

Hooker said school screenings include vision, hearing, teeth, scoliosis and head lice.

Barrett said she also wants the initiative to expand and "address root causes of risk behavior." She said she would like it to work on raising local children's self-esteem and lowering the rate of teenage pregnancies.


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