As the federal government prepares to implement the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, Colorado is moving forward with local plans to implement new childhood nutrition and physical exercise programs. The Colorado School of Public Health’s Rocky Mountain Prevention Research Center in partnership with the University of Denver’s Morgridge College of Education is the recipient of a $1.8 million grant from the Colorado Health Foundation aimed to improve the health of children in Colorado’s San Luis Valley and other rural communities.

The project is estimated to reach more than 11,200 elementary, middle and high school students in the San Luis Valley and Eastern Colorado. Using a process called Adapted Intervention Mapping (AIM) the project team will work with schools to address the policies contributing to inactivity and poor eating habits. AIM will be reinforced by the San Luis Valley Physical Education Academy. The academy will provide physical education teachers with workshops, equipment, and on-site mentoring to deliver richer, more evidence-based physical education programs.

“We’ve been working closely with educators in the San Luis Valley to plan this project.  In the end, we’re hoping students learn to love being active and establish a habit of lifelong activity,” said Colorado School of Public Health program lead Elaine Belansky, PhD.

Belansky, an assistant professor of community and behavioral health, teamed up with University of Denver professor and former physical education teacher Nick Cutforth, PhD, to design the program. The partnership leverages physical education and nutrition expertise from both the School of Public Health and the Morgridge College of Education.

During the first year of the project the research team will work with 19 San Luis Valley schools. By 2013, the project will have expanded to a total of 57 schools in the Valley and Eastern Colorado. During this period, the schools will develop the skills necessary to sustain the project’s objective of increasing student access to healthy meals, quality physical education and physical activity opportunities.

According to a Colorado Health Foundation report, Colorado remains the leanest state of adults in the nation, but it ranks 23 out of 50 for childhood obesity. The new project will equip the research team to assist Colorado schools as they address childhood obesity alongside the federal efforts aimed at national wellness standards.

“For 18 months we engaged San Luis Valley teachers, principals, and superintendents in a planning process to answer the question, ‘What would it take to improve the quality of physical education in the San Luis Valley?’ and are delighted that the Colorado Health Foundation has recognized our efforts to work with schools to increase student opportunities for healthy eating and physical activity,” said Cutforth.

About the Colorado School of Public Health
The new Colorado School of Public Health is the first and only school of public health in the Rocky Mountain Region, attracting top tier faculty and students from across the country, and providing a vital contribution towards ensuring our region’s health and well-being. Collaboratively formed by the University of Colorado Denver, Colorado State University, and the University of Northern Colorado, the Colorado School of Public Health provides training, innovative research and community service to actively address public health issues, including chronic disease, access to health care, environmental threats, emerging infectious diseases, and costly injuries.

About the Morgridge College of Education
The University of Denver’s Morgridge College of Education (MCE) is committed to being a force for positive change in Colorado’s education, mental health and information services and systems. Providing a variety of Ph.D. and master’s degree programs as well as education certificates, the MCE prepares students for rewarding careers using the most current techniques and research available for teachers, psychologists and information specialists. As part of every program’s curriculum, students engage in numerous community-based projects with schools, libraries and nonprofit agencies. The College recently moved into the newly constructed Katherine A. Ruffatto Hall featuring leading edge technology to prepare 21st century leaders.

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