Programs to focus on nutrition, exercise and care

August 25, 2004

A grant of $296,289 awarded by The Harvest Foundation on Tuesday will be used to improve the health of Henry County and Martinsville residents.

The Boys and Girls Club of Martinsville and Henry County, Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and Rural Health Consultants are participating in a Health and Wellness Initiative that will have two components.

One is the Healthy Community Initiative, which will promote healthy eating habits and physical activity among students in kindergarten through eighth grade who attend after-school programs.

The other is the Partnership for Access and Service Expansion Program, which is developing a plan to provide better health care to people who are uninsured and underinsured.

The Healthy Community Initiative, which will receive $167,428, will serve children in 14 after-school programs administered by the YMCA, Boys and Girls Club and Bassett Community Center. The initiative is slated to start Sept. 1.

Information about the initiative and sign-up forms for the programs, which will be prepared using grant funds, will be distributed to parents who attend upcoming Back to School nights at county and city schools.

Only children in after-school programs can participate because educators "do not have time" to conduct the initiative during the school day, said Nancy Bell, grants and public relations coordinator for the Martinsville schools.

That is because schools now focus on the state Standards of Learning (SOLs) and subjects such as physical education have lost prominence, she said.

As part of the initiative, students will get to take part in activities such as three-on-three basketball, Double Dutch jump-roping, Twister Moves, Dance Dance Revolution and CatEye Game Bikes. Twister Moves is a new dance version of the classic Twister game. Dance Dance Revolution is a video arcade dancing game that helps young people improve their fitness. CatEye Game Bikes require users to pedal and steer a stationary bicycle to move objects on a video game screen.

Kirsten Barrett, a senior research associate at VCU, said there is "a ton of evidence" suggesting that such activities help children control their weight in the same way as regular types of exercise.

She added that officials hope other types of activities will be discovered and added to the after-school programs as the school year proceeds.

A dental hygienist will teach students how to brush their teeth properly and practice good oral hygiene, and a nutritionist will teach them ways to eat healthy and control their weight, Bell said.

"It's just as easy to teach kids to eat healthy as it is to eat junk" food, said Bell.

In addition, a school nurse will check students' heights, weights and blood pressure three times during the school year, Bell said.

Those health checks will help determine how many students may be prone to developing problems associated with being overweight, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, Barrett said.

Statistics from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show the frequency of childhood obesity has tripled during the past 40 years. At least 15 percent of the nation's young people are overweight, statistics show.

There currently are no studies showing how many area youth have weight problems or other health concerns, said Barrett.

However, high unemployment and school dropout rates locally may cause those problems to be more prevalent locally than in more affluent parts of the state, she indicated.

No fee will be charged for students to take part in the Healthy Community Initiative. However, parents will have to pay any fees or membership dues charged by the organizations conducting the after-school programs.

A full-time project coordinator will be paid $33,324 to oversee the effort, a budget shows. Part-time staff will be hired to help the coordinator.

The remaining $128,861 will be used by the partnership to find ways to:

  •  Ensure that all community residents, regardless of insurance, have somewhere to go to receive basic health care.
  •  Assist with case management and medical care coordination for people with chronic health conditions.
  • Ensure that patients have access to medications and health specialists, and
  • Determine the best approach to providing dental services to people who are uninsured and underinsured.

Barrett said the case management, care coordination and medication access components initially are being focused on.

The partnership includes Memorial Hospital of Martinsville and Henry County, Carilion Family Physicians, Children's Medical Center, Henry-Martinsville Health Department, Community Health Center and Dr. Mark Crabtree, a local dentist. The partnership has been working on a plan to improve health care locally for more than a year, Barrett said.


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