ECU program provides middle-schoolers with a healthy perspective

This fall, teachers at 13 eastern North Carolina middle schools will return to class ready to give their students some much-needed perspective. A healthy perspective, that is.

In math class, new 7th graders will learn to calculate their BMI and record physical activity in Microsoft Excel. In physical education class, they’ll test their endurance on the track. They’ll develop wellness journals and taste test sugar-free drinks.

This week is National Childhood Obesity Week, and I can’t think of a better time to give an update on an ECU-sponsored program designed to teach healthy lifestyles to middle-school students. Called Motivating Adolescents with Technology to Choose Health (MATCH), lesson plans are designed by the Pediatric Healthy Weight Research and Treatment Center at ECU to parallel the 7th grade North Carolina Standard Course of Study over a 16-week period.

MATCH sprang from humble beginnings in Martin County in 2006. Shocked by a news report of skyrocketing diabetes and cardiovascular disease in the county, an inspired science teacher led an experiment to help build student awareness of healthy habits.

Today that teacher, Mr. Tim Hardison, and I lead the MATCH program at ECU, which has since expanded to serve hundreds of students. And thanks to a $408,693 grant awarded by the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust earlier this year, 1,500 students will benefit in the 2012-2013 school year starting this fall.

Initial results are promising, with more than 56 percent of participating students achieving a healthier weight. However, the best summation of our impact is in the words of students like this one, who take their lessons home with them:

“I have gotten [my family] to start eating healthy foods, stop eating fast and fried foods everyday and making them do aerobic dances. Also, we started to walk at the WHS track twice a week and stopped eating in front of the television. This program has also helped with me and my grandmother’s asthma. I feel like I have really made a huge difference in our lives.”

Suzanne Lazorick, MD, MPH, FAAP
Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Public Health
ECU Pediatric Healthy Weight Research and Treatment Center
Associate Director of Community Research and Prevention