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Pre-K classes take part in anti-obesity program

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A new WVU-sponsored program wants to take a peek inside Kanawha families' refrigerators to help them make healthier decisions and fend off obesity.

The Choose to Change program, run by West Virginia University's Extension Service, is working with families in Kanawha and Monongalia counties with children enrolled in pre-kindergarten programs.

Participating families will receive a visit from program staff to take stock of their grocery-buying habits, as well as the exercise equipment available in their home

Tammy Gray is organizing Kanawha County's half of the program.

She said 22 pre-K classrooms are participating, with half acting as a control group.

About 100 families from the 11 remaining "intervention" classrooms are signed for the program, but Gray still needs about 140 participants before the end of September.

Families receive about $400 for participating in the study.

Choose to Change staff has not started visiting participating homes yet, but Gray said that portion of the program should begin in a few weeks. Families are now working on detailed surveys about members' diet and exercise habits, including information about grocery shopping and home gardening.

Workers also are visiting pre-K classrooms to collect height and weight measurements from students, and are scheduling times to go into homes.

As part of the audit, Choose to Change staff will use barcode scanners to take an inventory of each families' groceries. They also will record what food preparation equipment is available in the home, as well as what kinds of physical activity equipment is present and how accessible those items are to children.

"It's one thing to have bikes and basketballs and footballs in the home, but is it accessible?" said Emily Murphy, obesity prevention specialist the WVU Extension Service.

When the audits are complete, "Choose to Change" staff will begin working with families to make their homes healthier.

"The idea of doing the assessment is to look at the current obesity environment. The intervention is to empower families to make healthier choices," Murphy said.

She said the program is meant to encourage families to make healthier choices, like purchasing gifts for birthdays and holidays that will push children to be more active.

Murphy said physical activity equipment does not have to be big, expensive weight sets or treadmills.

"It could be as simple as running shoes, Frisbees, hula hoops, that sort of thing," she said. "That's one of the things we want to stress to families: being physically active doesn't necessarily mean being involved in a sport"

Many people complain they can't afford to do physical activities, Murphy said, but the "Choose to Change" program wants to change that perception.

"It doesn't cost anything to go to a playground and play with your kid," she said.

Auditors will return to students' homes after a year to see if the families have changed their behaviors.

Though "Choose to Change" aims to identify contributors to obesity and barriers to overcoming it, Murphy said the program is not limited to families that are extremely overweight.

It is an obesity prevention program, not an obesity treatment program, she said.

"It's not at all focused on weight," Gray said. "Everybody needs to live a healthy lifestyle no matter what weight they are."

To sign up for the program, call Tammy Gray at 304-376-6537 or email her at tamara.gray@mail.wvu.edu.

For more on the "Choose to Change" program visit www.choosetochange.me or www.choosykids.org.

Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-7939 or zack.harold@dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ZackHarold.


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