Family Medicine launches childhood wellness program

Aug 9, 2013, 13:06 PM by Julia Essex

UTMB family medicine residents recently finished their first semester teaching a new childhood wellness program. Their students, fifth graders at Mainland Preparatory Academy in LaMarque, spent the spring learning many different ways to approach eating and lifestyle decisions.

Under the direction of social worker Leah Fanuiel and Dr. Juliet McKee, the UTMB residents visited the school’s fifth graders throughout the semester, sharing healthy snacks of fruit, teaching the kids about nutrition and leading the kids through physical workouts.

The goal at the end of the program was for the kids to have lots of practical knowledge about how to choose and prepare food and how to incorporate fun, easy activities into their everyday lives. Activities incorporated during classroom sessions included basic exercises like toe touches, jumping jacks, push-ups and running in place.

The residents taught the kids to make their own healthy, easy snacks. UTMB’s nutritionist Kristy Addison gave the kids and their parents/guardians a cooking lesson. Each child in the program received an “Honest Pretzels” cookbook by Mollie Katzen.

The children learned to identify the relative healthiness of foods based on a “Go, Slow, or Whoa” rating. “Go” foods are super healthy and should be consumed as much as possible (fruits and vegetables). “Slow” foods are healthy in moderation (whole grains, meats, nuts, dairy, oils). “Whoa” foods should be avoided except for special occasions (candy, cake, cookies, sodas).

At the end of the semester, UTMB Department of Family Medicine helped sponsor the school’s field day – an event that featured a pillowcase race, an egg-in-the-spoon race, a hoola-hoop contest and a moonwalk.

Four students in the program received prizes for essays they wrote on the topic “What Childhood Wellness Means to Me.” Maria Rittenhouse won first place, Reagan Allen won second place, Paul Smith placed third and Jeremiah Francis placed fourth. The top two winners were awarded new bikes. The third and fourth place winners received Schlitterbahn day passes. The fifth-grade teacher, Ella Brunt and the administrator, Diane Merchant, received fruit baskets.

Funded by the UTMB Department of Family Medicine Charles H. and Mary Campbell Lectureship, the childhood wellness program was led by second-year resident physicians working on their community medicine rotation.

“We must start early to teach about wellness,” said Fanuiel. “Placing resident physicians in classrooms to teach children healthy habits is a huge step toward prevention of chronic diseases. It is a win-win scenario.”

The UTMB Family Medicine Childhood Wellness Program at Mainland Preparatory Academy is scheduled to continue in the fall.

This article was reprinted with permission from the UTMB Health Impact online newsletter. It was first published in the July 25, 2013 edition of the newsletter.