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Healthy kids make good students

Program will work on improving health of rural communities, children


Estacada will become one of several testing grounds over the next three years as the Oregon State University Extension Service works to de-code how local communities influence child health and wellness.

The project, under the direction of the Family & Community Health program of the Oregon State University Extension Service, is intended as an effort to improve student and community health.

The arrival of this program comes one year after OSU instructors Deborah John and Kathy Gunter received a $4.8 million grant for the Generating Rural Options for Weight-Healthy Kids and Communities (GROW HKC) program.

“The goal is to look at how we can make communities healthier for kids and the entire community,” said Beret Halverson, the GROW leader for Clackamas County.

As part of the program, Halverson and her team will assess environments with the most impact on children: school, home and community. Halverson hopes to determine where and how choices regarding health are made in Estacada.

“Part of that is looking at the environment and seeing what barriers and opportunities there are,” she said. “Then we go from there to see what is feasible based on the community’s readiness to make changes.”

The GROW program is being implemented in three counties across the state: Clackamas, Columbia and Klamath, with two communities in each county selected for participation.

The criteria for being included require that communities be rural. Other considerations included the poverty level and the percentage of student’s receiving free and reduced lunch in the school.

“We wanted to work with rural communities because we know the health challenges rural communities and children face are very different from those affecting urban communities, and they require different solutions” Halverson said. “Estacada was also chosen because the school district was willing to partner and participate in our programing.”

The other Clackamas County community selected was Molalla.

The Extension Service's nutrition classes at Clackamas River Elementary will continue this year, and as part of the GROW program will include gardening and physical activity.

Field educator Stephanie Stuart will teach elementary students on a rotating weekly schedule.

In addition to the educational portion of the program, GROW will measure the height and weight of each student at the school both in the fall and spring for the next three years.

Outside of schools, a large emphasis will be placed on the environmental impact on local children and families health, which will be evaluated through the Healthy Eating, Active Living (HEAL) mapping project.

The project will recruit community volunteers to participate by taking a camera along typical routes through the community. The camera will not only track the coordinates of the route, but also will allow the user to document places and points of interest along the way.

“Maybe they pass a convenience store, or walk along a trail and take photos of these features,” Halverson said. “Then they can record whether these places or features make it easier or more difficult for them to eat healthy or be physically active. It’s really about capturing peoples’ perceptions about how these community resources are supports or barriers for people in Estacada to be physically active or eat healthy.”

Once the mapping has been documented, Halverson and her team can combine the data for a larger evaluation.

“We look at these routes and evaluate where the common areas people are going to in day-to-day life and which features they’re interacting with the most,” she said. “We want to study how those environments and features within the environments affect whether people are able to make healthy choices.

“The idea is that we’ll study how changes to the environment make it easier, or maybe more difficult, to be healthy and active depending on what things do and don’t exist.”

One example Halverson gave was the presence of free parks within a community. They might find that a community that offers more public space for exercise and activity has healthier children.

Once all of the data is compiled, a report will be provided to the community that will suggest interventions that will make Estacada a healthier place for children.

“We really want to look at all factors involved in changing the school, home and community environments, so all people in the community are able to make healthier choices,” she said. “It’s really dependent on what the community tells us and ultimately what the community is interested in changing. This project is participatory in nature. We want the community to be involved and we want their input on how to make Estacada a healthier place for kids.”

As of now, the only data available on rural children’s health is height and weight self-reported by eighth-graders in each county. As a result, it’s tough to tell which rural communities have unhealthy children.

“It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to work directly with Estacada community members and make it a healthier place for kids, because they’re our future,” Halverson said. “It’s a really important issue for our society and individual communities to be aware of and make efforts to improve because research indicates that healthier kids do better in school and achieve more in their lives.”




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