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UW-Eau Claire Faculty Plan Family Events at
Local Schools to Promote Healthy Eating

RELEASED: Oct. 27, 2008

fruit basketEAU CLAIRE — Two Eau Claire elementary schools participating in the federally funded Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program during the 2008-09 academic year will host family activity nights in November to help educate students and their families about healthy eating habits.

Lakeshore and Longfellow elementary schools will host healthy eating family fun nights in their school gyms. The event at Lakeshore will run from 6:30-8 p.m. Nov. 6 and the event at Longfellow will run from 5-7 p.m. Nov. 13.

The events will feature fresh fruit and vegetable tasting and demonstrations, information and resources that promote healthy eating among children and their families, and fruit and vegetable bingo, said Dr. Eric Jamelske, an associate professor of economics at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire who is part of a research team evaluating the effectiveness of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program.

Dr. Eric Jamelske Dr. Lori Bica
Dr. Eric Jamelske
Dr. Lori Bica

"As researchers evaluating the positive impact of the FFVP on child attitudes and behavior in Wisconsin schools, we have found that the program has done some good, but fails to deliver truly significant positive change for children," Jamelske said. "We feel that this is at least in part due to the lack of coordinated educational activities implemented as part of the program. In addition, there has been little to no parental involvement in the program to date.

"It is for this reason we have planned these family activity nights as part of our evaluation of the 2008-09 FFVP. It is our hope that these events will draw children, parents and families into the school to experience and celebrate fresh fruits and vegetables and healthy eating."

A number of community partners will participate in both family night events, including Festival Foods, Copps Food Center, Hahn's Market, Just Local Food and the Eau Claire Downtown Farmers Market. UW-Extension nutrition educators and representatives from Energize Eau Claire County and Eau Claire City-County Health Department also will participate. UW-Eau Claire faculty and university service-learning students will be involved.

In 2002, the USDA created the FFVP to improve nutrition and help reduce the prevalence of childhood overweight and obesity. The FFVP provides funding for students from selected schools to receive a free fresh fruit or vegetable snack daily for an academic year. Wisconsin was added to the program for 2006-07 and the program was made national beginning in 2008-09.

Jamelske and Dr. Lori Bica, associate professor of psychology and chair of the psychology department, are part of a research team evaluating the success of the program for the Wisconsin departments of Public Instruction and Health and Family Services.

Researchers have found that the program has increased student willingness to try new fruits and vegetables served in school, Jamelske said. In contrast, they did not find that the program had a positive effect on students' willingness to try new fruits and vegetables at home or to choose fruits and vegetables as a snack instead of chips or candy, he said.

"If the program is to be successful, it will likely begin with changes in attitude and behavior at school because this is where students are being exposed to the snacks and also where they are engaging in activities promoting fruits and vegetables as a healthy food alternative," Jamelske said. "However, for the program to succeed in the long run, the effects must reach beyond school and into the home. The best way for this to happen is for teachers and parents to become actively involved in the program."

The research team's study, published this summer in the Wisconsin Medical Journal, involved data from two groups of Wisconsin fourth-, seventh- and ninth-grade students. One group, consisting of 784 students, received fruit and vegetable snacks in school as part of the program. The other 343 students in the study were not given fruit or vegetable snacks at school.

After the first three months of the USDA program, students in both groups were asked about their willingness to try new fruits or vegetables at school. Researchers found that students participating in the USDA program reported a significant increase in willingness to try new fruits and vegetables served at school compared to the children not taking part in the program.

After looking at the data, researchers determined that the snack program had more of a positive effect on the younger students.

"The data indicates that the sooner kids are introduced to fruits and vegetables, the more likely they are to choose them as snacks," Jamelske said.

The FFVP is now available to schools in all 50 states, including 56 schools in Wisconsin for 2008-09, Jamelske said. In Eau Claire, Lakeshore and Longfellow were selected to participate because both are high-need schools, with at least 50 percent of their students qualifying for free or reduced-priced school meals, he said.

"Obesity is the most common medical condition of childhood in the United States, with the prevalence having more than doubled over the past 20 years," Jamelske said. "Nationally, 15.3 percent of 6- to 11-year-olds and 15.5 percent of 12- to 19-year-olds are at or above the 95th percentile for body mass index-for-age. Long considered one of the central causes of overweight and obesity, poor nutrition is prevalent among today's youth. Children and adolescents' food intake tends to be low in fruits and vegetables. That's what makes this program so important."

For details about the November school events or research relating to the success of the FFVP, contact Jamelske at 715-836-3254 or jamelsem@uwec.edu, or Bica at 715-836-5524 or bicala@uwec.edu.

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JB

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