As the sound of rambunctious school children filters in from the hallways the staff from the Bootheel Health Alliance prepares for the group they will be speaking to that day. Case Manager Anthony Crawford and Project Director Terrico Johnson are no strangers to speaking with groups of Bootheel community members about the importance of health, but the people they will be working with today are a little on the short side compared to the groups of adults they normally see.
Bootheel Health Alliance is devoted to fighting diabetes and other chronic illnesses in the Missouri Bootheel and one project of the group is the Childhood Obesity Prevention program. The staff uses games and play to teach children not only about healthy eating but also staying active and monitoring your health. This program partners with area schools to go into the classroom and work directly with the children.
One of the main tools taught for healthier eating is the Traffic Light Diet, developed by Leonard Epstein, PhD in the 1970’s. “…it divides foods by the colors of a traffic signal: green for low-calorie foods that can be eaten freely; yellow for moderate-calorie foods that can be eaten occasionally; and red for high-calorie foods that should be eaten rarely.”
Other activities include active games, to get the children up and moving in the middle of their school day and to impress upon them the importance of at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day. Topics tackled include chronic disease prevention, oral and physical hygiene, as well as general wellness. The goal of the program is to impart the importance of health on the community, particularly on the generation of future leaders to create community wide change.