When sitting at the dinner table a child nearby may just say whoa as a parent reaches for fried, heavily processed food.
That is the hope of Fairfield County’s CATCH (Coordinated Approach to Child Health) Program, a part of Eat Smart, Move More Fairfield.
The goal is to improve nutrition and activity level in Fairfield County.
According to Mac Russell, a registered dietitian with Fairfield Memorial Hospital, “Fairfield and the Fairfield Nutrition Committee wanted to reach as many people in the county as possible, so we needed to get involved with schools.”
As part of the education component of CATCH, foods are grouped into three categories go foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains), slow foods (processed foods, baked potato with sour cream and butter) and whoa foods (fried, sugar laden foods, fast food).
Family newsletters are sent home as part of CATCH in hopes that parents will choose to adopt the healthy eating habits that are modeled for the children while they are at school.
“One of the biggest challenges is getting the messages home,” Russell said. “You try to educate as much as you can, such as when he had presenters in schools on grandparent’s day.”
She believes the culture is changing and that people are more interested in nutrition than in the past. Portion control, limiting fast food and adding physical activity are elements of CATCH.
Fairfield Elementary School, Kelly Miller Elementary and the Magnet School for Math and Science each have school gardens thanks to the work of retired Clemson extension agent, Mark Talbert who not only constructs the raised bed gardens but helps tend them and gives student’s tips on gardening.
“If they see it, touch it and grow it, they are more likely to eat it,” Russell said.
A CATCH advisory committee meets in every elementary school and middle school to coordinate the many levels of the program, from education to training. School nurses also help manage CATCH work.
They support keeping physical activity and nutrition on the agenda. A 2012 grant through the Healthy South Carolina initiative enabled preschool staff to be trained for the first time.
Rhonda Garris, head of nursing in the district is heavily involved with CATCH.
“Each school does its own plan and we use the teachers as good role models of eating healthy. We encourage teachers to drink water and give a child a pat on the back if they see the child snacking on an apple rather than a candy bar,” Garris said.
Four schools serve a snack at the end of each day, giving students a chance to try new fruits and vegetables four times per week. Samples such as apples, pairs, and star fruit are popular items.
Teachers at Fairfield Elementary School say the snacks help create a highly effective teaching and learning environment because children eat so early in the morning. The snacks provide extra energy and refocused attention. Citrus is often included because according to CATCH, research shows citrus helps improve brain function.
The preschool curriculum uses fruit to teach colors. The class graphs who likes which kind of fruit most and lesson plans even include puppetry.
Allison Jordan became certified as a Type II diabetes teacher and is doing pilot education programs with the first, second and fourth grades.
Class incentives have changed from food related to being Wii parties where children play tennis or bowling video games to encourage activity.
Principal Dr. Tammy Martin lauded the program’s benefits.
“We do Brain Gym exercises in the classroom. For those students will touch their right hand to their left knee or do jumping jacks in ways that use both side of the brain.
The snack and movement help the students stay more focused and alert so they are more motivated to learn. Benefits have occurred to the discipline in the school as well. Three years ago Fairfield Elementary School had 960 discipline referrals but as of October, in 2012-13 they have had less than 25.
The Center for Highly Effective Teaching led teachers to learn the importance of hydration to improved brain function, so they encourage children to drink lots of water.
“This program gives substance to help children become involved in student achievement” Martin said.
The number of students ordering salads has increased.
Children have observed changes in the garden from the beginning of the year. They planted carrot seeds and picked radishes, cucumbers, banana peppers, bell peppers and a green tomato.
The drip irrigation system for the school watering is efficient and also is used as a science teaching tool.
At FES they host a family CATCH night which had 300 attendees in its first year. The evening included dancing, Zumba, physical activity and healthy snacks. At the last Parent Teacher Organization meeting parents received cups of fruit just like their children eat through CATCH, something Martin said was a hit.
The pilot project for this nationwide, evidence-based program which is a coordinated approach to child health was done at Kelly Miller Elementary, the first school in S.C. to host a CATCH program.
Teachers and staff were trained to integrate nutrition education and movement into the entire curriculum, not just health or physical education classes.
Increased signage by the food services department lets children and adults know which foods are “go” foods, “slow” foods and “whoa” foods.
Fairfield was ahead of the curve on this movement thanks to years of work done by the Fairfield Nutrition Committee. About 2005, obesity became a public health focus. Leaders hope healthy habits will catch on to make Fairfield County a better place. Eat Smart, Move More Fairfield is a collaboration of Fairfield Memorial Hospital, the John A Martin Primary Health Care Center, Fairfield Behavioral Health, Department of Health and Environmental Control, the Fairfield County School District and the Upper Midlands Rural Health Network.