Study will test school-based anti-obesity efforts

Select students will get
in District 191

Select families in School District 191 will be part of a university study to determine whether school-based nursing services can help overweight children slim down and maintain healthier lifestyles.

The study will begin next school year, thanks to a $3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to the University of Minnesota School of Nursing, which has a history of collaboration with District 191.

Overweight elementary students and their families will get extra services from registered nurses hired by the School of Nursing.

Their results will be compared with a control group of district students and families who didn’t get the extra services.

“We are just hosting it,” said Dawn Willson, director of health services in the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage district. “Our families are the beneficiaries of it.”

If the five-year study is conclusive, it could open a new, school-based front in the national fight against childhood obesity, said Marti Kubik, the School of Nursing associate professor who will lead the study. One in three school-aged children is overweight or obese, she said.

“While Burnsville is where we’re beginning, we hope that we’ll be successful and that Burnsville will be only the beginning, that they will be breaking ground for the potential of what might be able to be done around the country,” Kubik said.

The study is pioneering because it focuses on school-based nurses providing intervention to students who are already overweight, she said.

The School of Nursing first collaborated with District 191 in the 2004-05 school year. Nursing students helped school nurses introduce a body mass index measurement for each student as part of annual health screenings.

With help from nursing students, that effort continues today for students in kindergarten and grades two, four and six. Parents receive the BMI measurements along with advice on weight control and physical activity.

“Very few districts do a comprehensive BMI screening program,” Willson said. “We are one of the few that do.”

Kubik also worked on a weight-control initiative in 2006 at the district’s alternative high school.

“Because of our history of working with the U, we have a very good working relationship,” Willson said.
Families will be recruited

The School of Nursing will recruit families for the study, Kubik said. Half will receive extra intervention and half won’t.

A total of 88 children will begin the program in 2014-15, with 88 more added in 2015-16, she said.

The program will last the duration of the school year. It will include three or four child-and-parent consultations with a nurse. Children will participate in small-group, after-school programs twice a month. There will be a monthly support group for parents.

Nurses will also involve community organizations that offer programs promoting fitness.

“We’ve done the kind of work at the school level to improve healthy food choice, and all children benefit from that,” Kubik said. “But we’re saying that children who are already overweight would benefit from more targeted support to attain and maintain a healthy weight.”

In addition to tracking students’ weights, nurses will collect data on diet and physical activity, Kubik said.

She measured parent interest in the research program by sending random surveys to a sampling of District 191 families.

Parents of both overweight and normal-weight students were “overwhelmingly” in favor, Willson said.

“I believe this is something our parents are supportive of,” she said.