California Pacific Currents 2000
Health Champions: Empowering People to Change the Way They Live
Today, 11% of our 6-to-11 year olds are overweight, yet only 5% of children were overweight in 1960. And studies from the last several decades document the presence of risk factors such as inactivity, smoking, and arterial deposits of fat and early plaque in American children and adolescents. These same risk factors have been linked to cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, and certain cancers that appear later in life.
Health Champions — a school-based comprehensive “healthy” lifestyle program — was designed to address and reverse these dangerous trends at local pilot sites: Rooftop Alternative and Lawton Alternative, two public schools in San Francisco. The program began as a collaboration among the California Pacific Medical Center, the Transamerica Foundation, and the San Francisco Unified School District in January of 1999.
“The long-term goal of the Health Champions program is to help both children and adults make behavioral changes that will lead to more healthful eating, exercise, and lifestyle habits that will become a way of life long after their direct involvement in the program is over,” says Sherry Sherman, PhD in psychology, and director of the program.
“Program components include: physical activity instruction, asthma education, nutrition, cooking classes, gardening, tobacco education, smoking cessation, ergonomics, healthy body image, and mental health counseling and stress management,” says Amy Adkins, MEd, program coordinator.
Applying Research Methods for Project Evaluation
Working with Stuart Dick, MPH, RD, of the California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute, the program staff narrowed their evaluation focus on one or more specific objectives within each of the program areas. These specific objectives were selected for measurement based on the availability of both standardized data collection methods, as well as comparison data.
Gathering Baseline Data
The program will span three years. Baseline data on knowledge of nutrition and nutritional choices, exercise patterns, body image, risk-taking behaviors such as smoking, as well as height and weight, and blood glucose, cholesterol, and iron levels were gathered earlier this year. Evaluation of the intervention will be accomplished with the use of several validated tools, such as the CDC's Behavior Risk Survey, the Child Nutrition Survey, the So-FIT Observation Form, and others. Most of the evaluation tools will be administered annually.
“The main purpose of the evaluation component of Health Champions is to quantify the health status and health-related behaviors of students, parents and caregivers, and staff of the two targeted schools,” says Stuart Dick, evaluation coordinator.
Using well-established survey questions, the Health Champions staff will be able to ascertain lifestyle changes for participants regarding their intake of fruits, vegetables, and high fat foods. They will also be directly observing and assessing the amount of time that students in PE classes spend in moderate to vigorous exercise.
“We believe that the results of our comprehensive intervention program will clearly demonstrate improved health and more healthful habits at our pilot sites,” says Sherry Sherman. In addition to continuation of the project at the two schools beyond the current three-year timeframe, planning has begun to secure funding to expand the program to new sites.
“Our belief is that if children are instructed on how to make more healthful lifestyle choices and are encouraged to exercise more vigorously, these new behaviors will translate into lifelong habits, with a concomitant reduction in risk factors for serious disease later in life,” says Sherman.