Effort targets obesity in kids

Some LSU kinesiology students are teaming up with BREC to get real-world experience while helping fight childhood obesity.

Through a partnership called “Playground Kidz,” students in LSU assistant professor of kinesiology Birgitta Baker’s service learning class will spend two afternoons a week during the spring conducting after-school activities at three BREC parks.

The program will offer students from low-income households an hour of homework help, an hour of active play, and a snack, Baker said.

Though the program — conceived in 2008 — is intended to serve students from low-income families, two of the LSU students who participated in the class said the main benefit was theirs.

“You definitely get better at dealing with children,” said Mark Avery, who took the class three semesters. “We bonded.”

Avery said he also learned a lot about teamwork from working with his class partner.

The program runs four days per week, and college students go in pairs two days a week, Avery said.

“You have to be able to communicate with that classmate pretty effectively,” he said.

Avery worked at Anna T. Jordan Park in Scotlandville, he said.

Fellow student Amanda Cockerham said every day was like a “new adventure.”

“Each child had such different personalities and none of them responded in the same manner,” she wrote in an email. “I loved answering the kids’ questions about what college was like and hearing their dreams for their futures.”

BREC officials approached LSU’s School of Kinesiology in 2008 about devising methods for combating childhood obesity, Baker said. The school’s mission, according to its website, is to advance “the understanding of physical activity, sport, and health to optimize the quality of life for diverse populations.”

After discussing the options, the planners settled on a program for 6- to 12-year-olds that includes homework help and instruction in nutrition and proper eating, plus a dedicated play time.

“Our students benefit to get some real-world experience by actually getting into the community,” Baker said.

When the program started, BREC hired students to run the programs, Baker said.

“We sort of came up with the idea to make it a service learning class so it would help them with the budget,” by allowing the students to work for credit, she said.

The class is a “service learning class” offered through LSU’s Center for Community Engagement, Learning, and Leadership, according to a news release from LSU.

Service learning classes are intended to address critical community needs, build leadership skills and reinforce course content, according to the center’s website.

BREC officials are pleased with what they have seen.

“It’s a strong, strong program,” said Debbie Spica, BREC’s director of Recreation Programs and Facilities.

Participating children are given a set of health-measurement tests at the program’s start, Spica said. The tests include weight, some sprints and other fitness measures, she said.

“They do another measurement at the end to check the outcomes,” she said.

Spica said they had seen the program’s effects.

“We have seen significant changes in kids’ thought processes as far as nutritional eating,” she said.

She recounted a field trip for some of the kids where lunch provided was from a sandwich shop and included chips.

“The kids made a point not to eat that,” Spica laughed.

The program will begin in February at three BREC parks: Anna T. Jordan, Ben Burge Park on Gardere and Mills Avenue Park near Southern University. It runs Monday through Thursday.