Nemours bringing groups together to focus on health

By Ronald MacArthur

During a brief intermission, participants at this meeting stood up and were led in a few breathing and stretching exercises. That may seem odd, but not really if you consider that the participants are part of the Sussex County Child Health Promotion Collaborative with the goal of creating health and wellness programs under the auspices of Nemours Health & Prevention Services (NHPS). The initiative, which you will hearing a lot more about over the next few months, is called 5-2-1 Almost None. That stands for the following: 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day; 2 hours or less of screen time each day; 1 hour of physical activity each day; Almost None - just one or two sodas, sports drinks, or fruit drinks per week. NHPS, based in Newark but with a new office in Seaford, has identified childhood nutrition issues as one of its top priorities. According to Nemours figures, nearly 40 percent of children in western Sussex are at an unhealthy weight. The collaborative, comprised of a wide spectrum of youth-oriented agencies and organizations, has been meeting over the past seven months to receive training and share ideas as the 5-2-1 Almost None (5-2-1AN) initiative begins to come into better focus. The collaborative has decided on the following as its broad goal: Every child in western Sussex will know and practice the 5-2-1 Almost None behavior. According to Peggy Geisler, a member of the collaborative and executive director of the Western Sussex Boys & Girls Club, 5-2-1AN is the philosophy behind an effort to eradicate childhood obesity in the area. "Nemours is providing the infrastructure - the technical support, information and data - and helping us identify our assets and weaknesses in the collaboration so we can work better together to fight childhood obesity," she said. "This model has been used successfully in other parts of the United States and Nemours is bringing it to Delaware. Eventually it will be a statewide initiative," she added. The western Sussex project is a grassroots initiative to kick off 5-2-1AN in the state. She explained that Nemours offered $5,000 mini-grants to members of the collaborative to promote the 5-2-1AN initiative, but the effort is only beginning. "We have received training, but we have not come together to get focused in one direction to get on the same path. That is what we started to do on Thursday," she said. Geisler said that it is imperative that members of the collaboration work together for the maximum impact. "If we take our toys and go in our corner and play we are the only ones to benefit, but if we come out and share our toys, we all get to play," she said. "We can pool our resources to make the most impact. Already, we have four new partners at the Boys & Girls Club because of the collaboration." On Feb. 16, members of the coalition met at the Seaford Golf & Country Club with staff members of Nemours and facilitator, Dr. Steve Horan, for another training session and to finalize the collaborative's vision statement. Some members of the collaborative spoke to the group and shared what has transpired over the past few months. Garrett Lydic, a physical education teacher at North Laurel Elementary School, who is the Delaware Teacher of the Year, talked about the importance of a fitness lifestyle. "Are many parents good physical fitness role models for children? Probably not, because physical education was probably not a positive experience for them when they were in school," he said. He said that, even though he tries to provide innovative programs within the physical education class, he gets notes from parents asking their children to be excused from physical education. "After five years of going at this alone, I've realized that I can't do it alone in this battle to improve our children's health and fitness. It requires an army of people, including the people in this room," he added. "Now I'm confident that our vision will be realized and this major problem will be tackled and that schools will have to play a major role." Among the many innovative programs he has initiated at the school, is a new walking program that includes pedometers donated by Nemours. He said that teachers are starting to count their steps on a daily basis and that will motivate their students to follow suit. He feels that soon there will be a contest between teachers and students in a race from the east coast and west coast of the country to see who can reach the middle first - one step at a time. And he already has the map ready to display in the school to keep track of the steps.

"Parents are the best role models for children, but teachers are role models too," he said. "If we can get the teachers excited, the students will get excited too." Karen Hughes, the No Child Left Behind coordinator at the Laurel School District, has started a high school walking club that has branched out to a group attending sessions at a local Curves exercise program. She said she was searching for something that everyone could do that would "extend into life forever and that was a cheap way to have exercise." Walking came to her mind quickly because it is something she does just about everyday. "The kids have been an inspiration to me because I walk with them now. They always want more," she said. She said that she is also helping to develop a new health policy for the school district. One of the items that she wants the district to address is the plethora of fund-raising activities that involve the sale of candy and sweets. "I think the board will address this as a future agenda item and we will be the first district in Sussex County not to have sugar-sweetened fund raisers for students. For me that's a plus," she said.

Facts tell the sad story
If anyone doubts that childhood obesity is a pressing problem, Dr. Karyl Rattay has the numbers to prove it, and she shared those with collaborative members on Thursday. She said that, nationwide, over the last two decades the number of overweight children has tripled - 30 percent of children in the country are considered at an unhealthy weight. According to Rattay, in Delaware that number is higher at 35.7 percent with the following: 37.4 percent in Seaford; 41.9 in Georgetown; 38.1 in Milford. In Delaware, the highest at-risk population is in the 10-14 year old age group at 41 percent. She said that the most alarming trend is the growing number of young children who are classified as overweight. She said that 7.5 percent of 3-4-5 year olds in the state were at the highest obesity level (99 percentile) or extremely overweight. "That is one of our greatest concerns," she said. So why are children becoming overweight? "There is not one single thing that you can point to," she said. "It's a complex issue. Sedentary activities like TV watching, eating habits and portion sizes, sugared beverages and a big decrease in physical activity are all factors. We have removed physical activity out of our lives," she added. She said that we are an automobile-dependant society. Rattay, who is one of the movers and shakers behind the 5-2-1AN model, would like to see another step taken. "We need to create an environment that will support 5-2-1AN; we need to revise the way we are building our environments," she said. In that she means that agencies (like DelDOT) not normally associated with nutrition and physical activity, have to be part of the equation because when projects are planned, they need to include open space for recreation and easy methods of access for people by walking, riding bikes, etc.

What is Nemours?
Nemours is a nonprofit organization dedicated to children's health and health care, with a pediatric hospital in Delaware and outpatient facilities in Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Florida. It is one of the nation's largest children's health systems. Nemours Health & Prevention Services (NHPS), headquartered in Newark, is the newest operating division of Nemours. NHPS complements Nemours' treatment services, research, and training programs. The division was established to catalyze and pioneer new approaches to children's wellness as a long-term endeavor for Nemours. While many U.S. children's hospitals and health systems include an advocacy component, Nemours is the only one in the country making this kind of expansive and sustained investment in children's health promotion and disease prevention.

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