Program expands into Aurora and Grand Junction schools, and enhances the model in DPS

AURORA, Colo. (June 1, 2009) – For the past 16 years, an evaluated elementary school nutrition program has been slowly growing in Denver Public School’s (DPS) low-income classrooms. The program primarily has targeted children and families who take part in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly Food Stamps) in order to better help these families eat healthier, make healthier food choices, and use assistance resources to their utmost advantage. This program, developed within the pediatrics department of the University of Colorado Denver’s School of Medicine, and in association with The Children’s Hospital, now has received a $1.3 million grant from The Colorado Health Foundation (TCHF) to help expand this effort.

Funded primarily through the Colorado Food Assistance Program under the USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education (SNAP-Ed), TCHF’s 40-month grant will serve to broaden CU Denver’s Integrated Nutrition Education Program (INEP) into 160 additional classrooms in Colorado including Aurora and Grand Junction, while greatly enhancing the model within DPS. The newly improved DPS program will be called “School Nutrition Plus: Partners and Parents” and will build on DPS’ “Super Foods” project by increasing parent education and involvement, incorporating greater classroom/cafeteria connections, real-time marketing of nutrient-dense fruits and veggies in the schools, and a new collaboration with KGNU Public Radio, who will support the program through nutrition-related radio show productions, developed by the students for the students.

“In DPS, we’re now serving 600 classrooms and reaching more than 16,000 children and families each year,” said Cathy Romaniello, MPH, RD, program director of the Integrated Nutrition Education Program at CU Denver’s School of Medicine, Department of Pediatrics. “As part of the program each year, children make and eat a wide variety of different fruits and vegetables in the classroom, which are outlined in detailed lesson plans for teachers in every grade level. We also reach parents through bilingual adult classes, take-home newsletters, 2nd grade book-bags and parent nights. The results have been an increase in the number of students who are now eating more fruits and veggies in their school cafeterias—parents are even telling us that their kids now ask for healthier foods at home.”

The ultimate goal is to increase students’ fruit and vegetable consumption. As one piece of the project, “Super Foods” will work with INEP to provide consistent messaging within the school environment—with INEP promoting fruits and vegetables in the classroom while “Super Foods” promotes fruits and vegetables in the cafeteria. The $1.3 million grant also will fund KGNU’s involvement in the classrooms which will teach students how to use technology to create their own radio diaries with a nutrition message. Also, parent advocacy groups will be formed at select sites to help increase fruit and vegetable availability in the community.

“Improving access to healthy foods is important and something DPS has been doing for many years,” said Leo Lesh, executive director of DPS’ Food and Nutrition Services Department. “Our ‘Super Foods’ project began more than two years ago, bringing more nutrient-rich foods to children. Now with The Colorado Health Foundation grant and the continued help of experts from the CU Denver School of Medicine, as well as many other partners, we can continue with the ‘School Food Revolution.’”

“Media drives much of what we see, hear, and think,” added Romaniello. “Through the partnership with KGNU, children will not only become skilled in media techniques, but the process will allow them to become empowered advocates, skilled spokespeople to promote healthy eating to their peers, their school, their families, and their communities. By delivering that message through multiple channels we can achieve a stronger behavior change, as well as to help connect the dots within the school and community in regard to nutrition-related efforts—it will magnify ALL of our efforts. It is such an exciting opportunity.”

“Health in early life is the foundation for health throughout life,” added Lesh.

The University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine faculty work to advance science and improve care. These faculty members include physicians, educators and scientists at University of Colorado Hospital, The Children’s Hospital, Denver Health, National Jewish Health, and the Denver Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Degrees offered by the CU Denver School of Medicine include doctor of medicine, doctor of physical therapy, and masters of physician assistant studies. The School is part of the University of Colorado Denver, one of three campuses in the University of Colorado system. For additional news and information, please visit the CU Denver newsroom online.

Contact: Tonya Ewers-Maikish, 303.315.6374, [email protected]

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