A Commitment to the Community

Doing stretches after physical activities are essential for health and fitness.

Feb 20, 2014
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Across the nation and in many parts of the world, childhood obesity is a growing concern. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity affects 17 percent of all children and adolescents in the United States. The Department of Physical Therapy at University of the Pacific has responded with the Healthy Children initiative.

Healthy Children 2013 - a partnership between University of the Pacific, Kaiser Permanente and the San Joaquin County Office of Education - is funded through a Kaiser Permanente Community Benefit Grant and aims to "promote healthful physical activity, nutrition, and school-related body mechanics among under-served school-age children in San Joaquin County, California." The initiative is focused on serving low-income families.

"This program incorporates Pacific's strategies of serving our communities and preparing our students for success in a multicultural world," said Dr. Casey Nesbit, Assistant Professor and Director of Clinical Education. Dr. Nesbit has assumed responsibility for administering Healthy Children 2013 after having been under the leadership of Dr. Todd Davenport, Associate Professor, for the past two years.

Pacific Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) students provide education about nutrition, physical activity and backpack safety in after-school programs at elementary schools in Stockton, Tracy, Escalon, Ripon, Thorton and Farmington. Each week, DPT students visit three sites interacting with children in schools grades kindergarten through eighth.

At the schools, DPT students incorporate fitness activities that blend nutritional messages with active games including using healthy and non-healthy foods in their adaptation of red light, green light, a relay game that focuses on body movements and stretching. Informational materials are also given to children and after-school program administrators to reinforce the knowledge once the program has ended. Throughout the visit, the DPT students see an average of four to five groups, each consisting of nearly 20 children.

While children are learning about a healthy diet and exercise, they are also learning what it means to be a physical therapist and a student at University of the Pacific, indirectly. Children in the afterschool programs are curious about the students' roles and what their careers encompass. As an introduction, a biography of each student is sent to the site prior to each visit to familiarize staff and children with the students.

As a requirement, DPT students attend an orientation hosted by the San Joaquin County Office of Education where they learn about evidence-based activities and nutrition education program called Coordinated Approach To Child Health (CATCH). In addition, students receive training for each activity which is led by student leaders for the Healthy Children program. The student leaders are responsible for creating the activities for the after-school program visits, training their classmates, organizing the visits and gathering information to measure the effectiveness of the program. Kimberly Huey '14 and Angelica Villalpando '14 are the first physical therapist student leaders of the Healthy Children program.

"As physical therapy students, we can help educate children in how to lead more healthy and active lives. It's grounded in making healthy decisions," said Villalpando. "As a student leader I have seen the wealth of knowledge these children already have about nutrition and physical activity and it is my hope that they carry on this knowledge to their parents and make a ripple effect throughout their lives," added Huey.

In addition to Huey and Villalpando, 24 DPT students also play an instrumental role in the initiative. As part of their Seminar course, students can elect to participate in Healthy Children 2013 or choose from other options such as leading and organizing the annual fundraiser 5K Tiger Dash and Half Mile Cub Run or participate in a Parkinson's support group.

Part of the goal for Healthy Children 2013 is to "promote professionalism through community outreach and health promotion in Doctor of Physical Therapy students." Through the initiative, students will benefit from their interactions with children, staff and administrators at each site. This type of interaction is different from what they learn in the classrooms, clinics and externships.

Since its inception in 2010, Healthy Children has grown in size, increasing the program's impact. "Over the past few years, the Healthy Children program has become increasingly focused on outcomes based on input from our important community stakeholders, now utilizes an evidence-based program to structure program activities, and has developed logistically by way of the development of formal site scheduling workflows and student manuals," said Dr. Davenport.

The presence of DPT students in after-school programs and the Healthy Children initiative has enerated excitement and enjoyment at the schools and made an impact in the community. In the past, Healthy Children has received glowing reviews from both the San Joaquin County Office of Education and the Stockton Unified School District. They've seen an increase in requests to have the students return every day of the week and each year. Reviews of the program express interest in expanding in future years to include all schools in each of the districts it serves.

"In light that much of the educational day is focused on supporting state standards, providing opportunities for quality, physical education and activities is critical to promoting health and well-being. It also provides positive adult role models in the lives of children; an asset development approach that has been well-documented in the literature in supporting youth success," said Sheri Coburn, Director of Comprehensive Health Programs at the San Joaquin County Office of Education.

"Our partners have played an integral role in the development of the Healthy Children program. I hope that we can continue to increase our effectiveness and our reach each year," said Nesbit. The Healthy Children 2013 initiative will have touched nearly 2,500 lives increasing the overall impact of the Healthy Children program to nearly 7,000 children.

Dr. Casey Nesbit conducted an interview with Comcast Newsmaker and talked about the benefits of Healthy Children. Watch the video at bit.ly/HealthyChildren2013

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