My name is Alyssa Allen and I am a graduate student studying Physical Activity and Public Health at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Over the past few months, our department has been working in collaboration with Master’s of Athletic Training students, Nursing students, and others on the COMPASS Grant Program. COMPASS stands for Combating Obesity’s Multiple chronic conditions through Preparation Activities Shared among Students. As a student in the department, I have been given the opportunity to promote physical activity in different environments in the Chattanooga community. Our hope is to use physical activity and nutrition to combat obesity and the chronic health conditions that are associated.
A few weeks ago, I attended the first session at the Boys and Girls Club at Highland Park. The Boys and Girls Club offers summer activities and programming for school-aged children. Our group that day had about 35-40 energy-filled kids! For each session at the Boys and Girls Club, there is a theme. For this initial session, the theme was “Be Sugar Smart” and there were two components of the lesson: nutrition and physical activity. We started with an introduction explaining what sugar is and how it can affect the body. Next, we taught the kids the importance of choosing certain drinks or foods over others. For example, we encouraged the kids to choose water over soda, sports drinks, and even fruit juices. Although juices appear healthier, many times these drinks contain excess sugar. The majority of the children did not understand how excess sugar can affect the body and how it is eventually stored as fat. Within our education, we are taught how excess adipose tissue from unused nutritional components can lead to obesity and increase the probability of developing chronic medical conditions. A few examples include diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. To emphasize the grandiose amounts of sugar in foods and beverages, we used a display board with small bags containing the amount of sugar in each product. Then we played a game where the kids guessed how many tablespoons were in different items on the board. To reiterate the act of ‘choosing’ a better beverage, we played a bowling game where the kids rolled a tennis ball to knock bottles over. Each bottle was labeled with a beverage and a number of points. Some bottles were labeled ‘soda’ or ‘sports drink’ and they were worth zero points. Of course water was worth the most points! After the nutrition lesson and games, we moved on to physical activity. An observation I made early on in my experience with kids, which proved true at the Boys and Girls Club, is that kids want to be active. They simply need space and free time. So when we gave them a game and a task, almost all of the kids were standing up and excited. We began with the human knot game, which involves physical activity with movement and problem-solving skills. Then we made a relay race where the kids bounced on physio balls through a series of cones. Besides being fun, bouncing on physio balls can help increase coordination and core stability. At the conclusion of the session, we gave the kids some tips for choosing sugars wisely and in moderation.
Overall, my experience at the Boys and Girls Club was great! Not only was it fun to play with the kids, but it was rewarding to teach them about nutrition and the importance of physical activity. I hope to have more opportunities in the future to share my passions with others in the community so that we can continue to combat obesity one activity at a time!