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UCLA: Project SHAPE LA gets middle-schoolers moving

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Stephen Dunn / Getty Images

Funded by a $1.2 million grant, Dr. Kynna Wright-Volel, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N., assistant professor and Robert Wood Johnson Nurse Faculty Scholar at the UCLA School of Nursing, and the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) are launching Project SHAPE LA, a coordinated school-health program to increase physical activity among youth in Los Angeles County schools.

Project SHAPE LA targets 24 middle schools in underserved areas of Los Angeles and will touch nearly 12,000 students.

"As a pediatric nurse practitioner, I see the health consequences when children are overweight or obese; however, the clinic visit is but one part of the solution," said Wright-Volel. "Research shows that school-based programs that are supported by collaborations among universities, schools, businesses and parents can decrease obesity and obesity-related behavior. We believe that Project SHAPE LA will do just that!"

According to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, one in five children in the LAUSD are considered obese. Obesity during childhood has immediate consequences, including hypertension, high cholesterol and the development of metabolic syndrome, as well as psychosocial problems such as low self-esteem and poor body image. Childhood obesity, if left unchecked into adulthood, can lead to a variety of chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain types of cancer, including breast and colon.

"This is an important component of an overall strategy for improving the health and well-being of our community, which includes physical activity, improved nutrition and nutrition education, and health education," said Rene Gonzalez, assistant superintendent of student health and human services for the LAUSD.

Engaging in regular physical activity is widely accepted as an effective preventative measure. Project SHAPE LA (Shaping Health for Adolescents through Physical/Nutrition Education Los Angeles) uses three components: SPARK PE, an evidence-based physical education program; educational training of PE teachers in the areas of nutrition, physical education, curriculum development and professional development; and up to $2,000 per year of PE equipment per school.

Anticipated outcomes from this program include:

  • Increased moderate to vigorous physical activity.
  • Increased scores on the California State Board of Education's FitnessGram Test in the areas of aerobic fitness, body composition and muscular strength/endurance.
  • Increased academic achievement, as evidenced by higher scores on California standardized tests.

"Support for our PE teachers is imperative at this crucial time in our state's budgetary crisis," said Chad Fenwick, LAUSD physical activity adviser.

The five-year grant will give approximately 85 PE teachers a monetary stipend and intense, evidence-based training in physical activity, nutrition and physical education curriculum.

The grant is jointly funded by the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Nursing Research and Office of Behavioral Social Science Research, both of which are committed to preventing disease and promoting the health of individuals, families and communities.

Another component of the grant supports the recruitment of 100 minority high school students a year. These students will be provided education and mentoring in the areas of obesity prevention, leadership and careers in health and allied health professions. This leadership program will be piloted at Belmont High School.

According to Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti (District 13), "This partnership with Belmont High School shows a strong commitment by Dr. Wright-Volel and the UCLA School of Nursing to the investment in our youth as they learn to be the next leaders of our city."

"With this grant, we want PE teachers to ignite a passion for physical activity — to teach kids that by being active they can be healthy and achieve their dreams," added Wright-Volel.

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