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Center Has New Name, Same Goal: Keeping Kids Healthy
Center for the Promotion of Healthy Lifestyles and Obesity Prevention presses on to help create a healthier community.

March 16, 2006
By Valerie Orleans

Moving into their second year, the Center for the Promotion of Healthy Lifestyles and Obesity Prevention (formerly the Center for the Prevention of Childhood Obesity) is continuing outreach efforts to address the problems of childhood obesity.

"A dramatic increase in childhood obesity over the past decade has made this an urgent public health concern," said Shari G. McMahan, professor of health sciences and director of the center. "Our goal continues to be facilitating interaction among multiple entities concerned with the rise in children's obesity."

One of the center's efforts is an April 13 forum titled "Obesity: Awareness and Beyond."

The name change was made to emphasize the focus on health and remove what might be considered a negative connotation, possibly deterring someone from participating in the center's programs.

Specifically, the center's focuses are: working with schools and community agencies to develop and test health promotion programs and interventions; assessing and evaluating existing programs and policies; and identifying models and environments that can explain and influence behavior patterns across different high-risk groups.

Efforts are being directed toward serving low-income, at-risk children in predominantly Hispanic communities in Santa Ana, Garden Grove and Fullerton, where obesity rates and risks for diabetes are among the highest in the nation.

Among the current programs are:

Healthy Lifestyles in Elementary School Children —   A program developed to work with children and their families in south Fullerton. Its objectives are to improve the health of children by fostering healthy choices. Under the direction of Cindy Greenberg, associate professor of nursing, one program goal is to evaluate the relationship between academic performance, and health and fitness measures among a high-risk population of elementary school-aged children. The information may provide the impetus for change in   schools, such as adding more time for physical activity.

Commuting Behaviors, Obesity Risk and the Built Environment — Under the direction of McMahan and masters of public health student Vanessa Moczulski, this study will focus on links between commuting behaviors in college students and the prevalence of obesity.

Among the variables to be studied: how many meals are prepared at home versus eaten out; how much time is spent commuting to and from school, work and home; and what activities students would be engaged in if they weren't commuting.

As part of the study, researchers hope to identify the nutritional habits of college students. Do they eat while commuting? What sorts of food selections do they make? How many meals do they eat outside of home?

Finally, the socio-economic differences between students will be added to the picture. Do students from different groups walk more? Eat more meals at home?

Currently, the researchers are looking at CSUF students enrolled in a personal health course. During the fall semester, more than 400 students were enrolled in these courses. Questionnaires were given to those students interested in participating on a voluntary basis.

Active Kids! Program — Lenny Wiersma, assistant professor of kinesiology, Clay Sherman, associate professor of kinesiology,   and the Kinesiology Department have partnered with Santa Ana's Latino Health Access to provide a university-based summer physical activity program. The department also has collaborated with St. Jude Medical Center and the city of Fullerton for an after-school, community park-based physical activity program during the school year.

Last year's 12-week summer program met each Saturday and offered active recreation activities, nutrition education, mentoring and exposure to university life. The Active Kids! after-school program, begun in early October, now has more than 30 children participating. As part of the program, kinesiology and health science majors are trained in curriculum development and lead children in the activities.

To assess program effectiveness, pre- and post-tests of a child's body mass index, waist circumference, nutrition knowledge and physical activity levels were conducted. While results are still being analyzed, researchers did discover that waist circumference dropped in just two months for 65 percent of the participants.

Mothers' Decisions in Preschooler Nutrition — Jessica Gomel, assistant professor of child and adolescent studies, along with Jie Weiss, assistant professor of health science, leads a program that explores the decision-making processes mothers use to determine what food to provide their preschool-age children. Many of these processes may be affected by cultural traditions, parenting styles and health beliefs, said the researcher. For instance, in many cultures, a chubby toddler or child is seen to be healthy.

In the first phase of the program, 15 English-speaking Latina mothers, 15 Spanish-speaking Latina mothers, and 15 non-Latina white mothers — all of whom have one children between the ages of two and five — are being studied. Completion of the research project is anticipated by late May.

Physical Activity Among Santa Ana Residents — Project ALISA (Active Living in Santa Ana), is designed to increase awareness of and physical activity among Santa Ana residents. Gomel and Jie Weiss, assistant professor of health science, recently conducted a survey to determine how many residents engaged in physical activity, to what extent and how often.

While more than 90 percent of respondents said they participated in some form of physical activity at least once a week, 55.6 percent rated being active between one and three days a week. For both men and women, walking was the most common form of exercise. After walking, men were more likely to report sports and yard work as part of their routines, while women reported housework and participation in exercise classes.

As a result of the survey findings, the authors have recommended educating Santa Ana residents about obesity's health risks and the need to make more active lifestyle choices; tailoring activity programs to make them more appealing; and providing child care to allow parents to avail themselves of exercise programs.

The Center for the Promotion of Healthy Lifestyles and Obesity Prevention is now listed as a partner in the 50th Anniversary of the President's Council.  Follow the following link to view the list of California partners, including CSUF:

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