In the days to come, we’ll post a new blog highlighting the impact some of our Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana Challenge Grant programs have had on children across the state. But for now, we thought it might be nice to hear directly from one our Challenge Grant partners. So we invited Ouachita Well Project Director Pamela Barton to be our latest guest blogger. Below, she talks about how much school kids in her region have changed for the better since the introduction and promotion of Ouachita Well’s signature education program, 52:10 (5 servings of fruits and vegetables everyday; 2 hours or less of screen timeScreen Shot 2015-11-09 at 4.06.33 PM daily; 1 hour of physical activity each day; no sugar sweetened drinks)!

By Pam Barton

Ouachita Well Project Director

52:10 is the signature education program used by Ouachita Well to encourage physical activity and proper nutrition. Sixth, seventh and eighth grade students in teacher Marybeth McCoy’s science class completed all activities available through this unique program.

Ouachita Well Project Director Pamela Barton teaches students how to read product labels.

Among the educational tactics employed:

–Fun trivia games, asking fruit-and-veggie based questions like, “What is the most profitable fruit in the U.S.?” (Grape, by the way!)

–A debate to address issues associated with obesity, discussing the pros and cons of such issues such as, “Should sugar be taxed?”

Students must rank the beverages based on sugar content.

–An essay contest, asking students to explain how their habits have changed since the beginning of the project. The feedback was so moving. One of Mrs. McCoy’s students said she used what she learned to influence her mom, and they began spending more time together, bonding over a joint weight-loss program. Another student talked about a family member with diabetes and how she so feared the same fate for herself that she used the 52:10 method to drop 20 pounds — and then began sharing the program with her mom, too!

Students in Mrs. McCoy’s class work on their 52:10 essay.

“My students have greatly benefited from all of the Ouachita Well activities,” McCoy said. “They were engaging, entertaining, and age-appropriate. It was so rewarding to see the student respond to the 52:10 message. And now I see the continued positive impact in their decision-making every day. “

The school’s principal, Mr. Chris Cox, was also supportive of our 52:10 initiatives and used every opportunity to encourage students to consume healthier snacks.

“Ouachita Well has been the driving force behind the continued focus to improve the health of Sterlington Middle School students,” Cox said. “And we are grateful to have a community organization like Ouachita Well that has the resources and expertise to help us reach our wellness goals.”

Mrs. Marybeth McCoy delivers a healthy powerpoint presentation.

To drive these messages home even further, a diverse committee made up of students, staff, community members, and administrators made regular policy recommendations to promote a healthier lifestyle (based on the school’s Wellness Policy). Some things that came about because of this committee?  A school-wide health fair, for one. And the student concession stand was upgraded to include healthier options. No more Cokes! Gone are chips and candies, too! All replaced with more nutritional, lower calorie foods, like yogurt, 100 calorie snacks, water and apple juice.

“Oh, they whined about the changes at first,” McCoy said. “But now, the kids are actually just fine with it. We’re even looking for more funding to put in another refrigerated machine so we can offer more things like smoothies and fruit.”

Principal Chris Cox serving healthy snacks.

We used peer pressure to make the difference, too. That kind of thing can be very powerful at this age. And now, they are influencing each other to eat less sugar and exercise more. That became the norm for these kids. They may not realize it yet, but this will change their future. It will change the way they eat every day, how they behave, and I really believe it will have a lasting effect on their health. And that’s impressive.