Caitlin Regner, MD

Caitlin Regner, MD

With heightened attention to childhood obesity, many educators are looking for ways to promote healthier lifestyles in classrooms and students from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health are doing their part to help.

The National Football League and National Dairy Council recently awarded a $1,000 Fuel Up to Play 60 grant to John Muir Elementary in Portage, which will be used to support healthy eating and physical activity programs at the school. Former UW MD student Caitlin Regner, MD, who is now DFMCH Madison resident, completed much of the legwork for the grant during a six-week preceptorship in Portage.

Students in UW’s MD program spend their fourth year rotating between more than 30 locations around the state, where they perform clinical work and work on public health projects as part of their preceptorship.

Previous MD students helped gather data on childhood obesity for the Portage Community School District, but with a better scope of the problem, Regner was tasked with seeking out funding for the elementary school.

Regner worked closely with a group of employees at John Muir who formed a wellness committee to more narrowly focus on their school. At John Muir, 38 percent of students evaluated had BMIs considered overweight or obese.

“I really responded to what the wellness committee asked of me,” said Regner. “Each of the committee members has their own specific job and none of those people felt like they had enough time to dedicate to writing a grant proposal, understandably so because they are busy with the kids all the time.”

Fuel Up to Play 60 was previously implemented at another school in the Portage district. In a survey there, a majority of parents said their children were more likely to eat vegetables at home, and that their children were also more involved in food choices and preparation.

Through Fuel Up to Play 60, the NFL and National Dairy Council offer up to $4,000 per school to fund combinations of 10 different healthy eating or physical activity initiatives in the program’s “playbook.” John Muir Elementary will use the $1,000 it was awarded to fund the Snack Smarter in School and in-class activity break programs.

Snack Smarter focuses on introducing students to healthier options for consumption between meals. The program can include anything from healthier cafeteria options to in-class taste testing of health foods.

The activity breaks aim to give students three-to five-minute reprieves from sedentary learning meant to keep them feeling more energized and involved in the classroom throughout the day. Regner said the money would likely pay for equipment to be used during the in-class activities.

Under the proposal, the students will be evaluated again near the end of the school year to monitor whether the Fuel Up to Play 60 programs have had any effect on BMIs. Parents will also be surveyed about the children’s at-home health behaviors.

Regner said schools remain a valuable avenue into children’s lives for changing lifestyle behaviors. She hopes the funding will be a first step to addressing obesity in Portage.

“Ideally, changes are going to be made in someone’s home because that’s where kids are going to spend the majority of their time when they’re not at school,” she said. “But it’s hard to target individual households, so schools seem to be the next best thing.”

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Published: November 2016