Childhood education used to improve health

The Northern Michigan University McNair Scholars Program hosted the 23rd annual Celebration of Student Scholarship at NMU's Jamrich Hall Thursday. The eight hour event featured posters, displays and presentations by students on their research and scholarly work. (Journal photo by Rachel Oakley)

MARQUETTE — Healthy eating and exercise are important for all ages, but educating children on ways to eat healthy and exercise is particularly beneficial, as this education can provide the basis for lifelong good habits and health.

Through the (S)Partners for Health program, researchers from Michigan State University and Northern Michigan University have partnered to educate 5th graders on healthy habits and researched how the educational program affects their health, and choices regarding physical activity and nutrition. The (S)Partners program originally started through Michigan State University, but three years ago, Marquette became an additional programming site for the (S)partner’s program.

“It basically is a program where we go into 5th grade classrooms and do health measurements on the children and then provide a mentorship program throughout the semester, where we educate them on certain nutrition and physical activity factors so they can try to improve their overall diet, their overall physical activity levels and kind of try to adapt them to healthier lifestyles at a young age, to help avoid childhood obesity and things like cardiovascular disease,” Brian Budd, an NMU student pursuing his master’s degree in exercise science who has been doing research through the (S)Partners program.

Much of the research that local students did through the (S)Partners program was on display at Northern Michigan University’s Celebration of Student Research Thursday.

A study led by Budd examined the relationship between physical activity and the risk of cardiovascular disease in Michigan 5th graders.

Foucault

“For my study, I found that there’s a moderate relationship between physical (activity) and CVD risk,” Budd said.

He explained that his research findings align well with previous results in this area of study.

“A lot of other studies … have shown that reducing screen time and increasing physical activity levels has shown to decrease these risk factors for cardiovascular disease,” Budd said.

He also noted that all the risk factors for cardiovascular disease are modifiable and habits can changed more easily during childhood than later in life.

Budd said one implication of the work is that giving children more planned, structured time for physical activity through gym class can help mitigate these risk factors for cardiovascular disease. He also mentioned that reducing sedentary time spent on computers, tablets or cellphones can also help mitigate the risk for cardiovascular disease.

Snow

The relationship between “screen time” spent on devices and adiposity was examined in another (S)Partners study, in addition to the relationship between physical activity and adiposity in Michigan 5th graders.

While the study did not find a significant relationship between screen time and adiposity, the researchers believe that if they re-design the study to focus more specifically on sedentary screen time, rather than include screen time children get in school, they might find more of a relationship.

The study found a slight relationship between adiposity and physical activity, with those who reported more physical activity having lower levels of adiposity.

“It’s a pretty big deal because there’s 31.4 percent of the U.S. kids are obese right now … and by 2025, its supposed to increase still to 70 million worldwide, it’s an epidemic but hopefully programs like this will help in the future and get the information out,” said Sara Foucault, an author of the study and an exercise science major major at NMU.

Another (S)Partners research project on display explored the relationship between self-efficacy, defined as “one’s own belief in one’s own ability to successfully accomplish a task,” regarding food choices, and actual food choices in 5th graders who were in the (S)partners for Health Program.

“The goal was basically to determine if 5th graders’ self efficacy was equivalent to their food choices,” said Amber Tadgerson, lead author of the study and sports science major at NMU.

Tadgerson explained that they found food self-efficacy and healthy food choices were positively correlated — meaning that students with high food self-efficacy were more likely to have healthier eating habits.

The students who worked on the study believe that the results show that it could be helpful to implement more health education in classrooms.

“I believe in a very cross-disciplinary and involved form of teaching and I think that nutrition and physical activity are such a huge part of health,” said Emily Snow, an author of the study and elementary education and language arts major at NMU. “And when our students are healthier, they are better students and our teachers are healthier… everyone does better at what they need to do when they feel well and so, studying self-efficacy, which is how we can implement that kind of health and nutrition knowledge in the class room, it was really important to me.”

The (S)Partners program is already reaching more classrooms, as they began implementing the program in additional schools in January, in conjunction with Michigan Tech University and Lake Superior State University.

(S)Partners organizers wish to thank the Superior Health Foundation for the generous grant, which has provided three years of funding for the project and helped them expand their programming to the additional sites.

“The generous support of the Superior Health Foundation allowed us to do that … we look forward to continuing these (S)partnerships and providing more opportunities for children and their parents throughout the U.P.,” said Erich Petushek, (S)Partners researcher and assistant professor at MSU’s College of Human Medicine, Marquette Campus.

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248.