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January 22, 2010

SIU Med School Leads New Coalition to Address Childhood Obesity

A new coalition to battle the problem of overweight and obese children in central Illinois has been awarded a $100,000 community engagement grant by Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL).  The effort, led by faculty at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, includes various partners working under the name Springfield Collaborative.  The grant runs through October and is one of 14 that BCBSIL awarded in the state.

“Our goal is to work together with concerned people and organizations in the community to provide a consistent message of health, physical activity and nutrition across all important areas of our children’s lives,” explained Dr. David E. Steward, professor and chair of internal medicine.  “We believe this formalized partnership, that will work to integrate services over time and locations, may be the first field application focused on children in pre-school and early elementary grades and one that we hope will be transferable across the state.”

The partners in the project are targeting a group of related medical conditions – metabolic syndrome, overweight and obesity, and diabetes – which now affect more than half of the U.S. adult population.  Higher rates of these conditions exist among underserved and underrepresented minorities of lower socioeconomic groups across Illinois.

The Springfield Collaborative partners are Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), Springfield Public School District #186 and Springfield Urban League Head Start.  Others will be added as the effort evolves.  SIU faculty and staff in pediatrics, internal medicine and clinical research are facilitating the effort.  They are using training and curriculum support from two existing programs -- I am Moving-I am Learning/Choosy Kids (IMIL/CK) for pre-school ages and Coordinated Approach To Child Health (CATCH) in elementary grades.

Steward said that about 70 children in four classes, ages 3 to 5, are included through the Urban League Head Start.  Teachers and staff in three Springfield schools are being trained in the programs – Ridgely, Feitshans and Iles, with approximately 1,100 children in total.  IDPH is providing the most current knowledge of national and statewide programs on health, physical activity and nutrition as well as access to information about the targeted populations through the National Center for Supercomputing Applications using the Child Health Profile/Body Mass Index Surveillance project.

The coalition will measure physical activity of the groups of children and conduct surveys about their nutrition and physical activity.  The survey results will be shared with teachers and schools so they have feedback about issues that children may have.

“We are particularly interested in working with the Springfield Schools to identify opportunities for working more effectively with parents and caregivers so the messages about health, physical activity and nutrition habits get repeated frequently at home,” Steward added.

The group hopes to connect with families at PTO groups, athletic gatherings, school-wide family nights and parent-teacher conference sessions.  On-going evaluation will be used to identify potential barriers in engaging parents or caregivers and to find key strategies that can be used to increase interest and participation.

 “We want the results of this project to be sustainable, so that it can be used through this community but also across the state,” concluded Steward.

Those interested in learning more about the Springfield Collaborative can contact Melissa Jones, Department of Internal Medicine, 217-545-5510 weekdays.

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