Texas GROW! EAT! GO! team receives AgriLife Extension Superior Service Award

Two Evans Elementary youth in Corpus Christi learn basic vegetable gardening skills as part of the Texas GROW! EAT! GO! pilot project. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

Two Evans Elementary youth in Corpus Christi learn basic vegetable gardening skills as part of the Texas GROW! EAT! GO! pilot project. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

Writer: Robert Burns, 903-834-6191, rd-burns@tamu.edu

COLLEGE STATION -- The Texas GROW! EAT! GO! Team has received the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service’s Superior Service Award for its work toward reducing childhood obesity.

The award was presented Jan. 8 during the agency’s Centennial Conference in College Station.

The idea of Texas GROW! EAT! GO! is to use family focused garden, nutrition and physical activities delivered by third-grade teachers to reduce childhood obesity, said Dr. Judy Warren, AgriLife Extension special initiatives coordinator and principal investigator for the project.

To do so, four AgriLife Extension units -- family development and resource management, horticultural science, food and nutrition, and agricultural economics -- partnered with and AgriLife Extension county agents and regional leadership throughout the state. Other partners included faculty of the Texas A&M University recreation, park and tourism sciences and health and kinesiology departments, and the Texas A&M University and University of Texas schools of public health, Warren said.

According to the award documentation, “Childhood obesity is the nation’s No. 1 public health problem.” The economic cost in Texas alone in healthcare and lost
productivity in 2013 was estimated at $15.6 billion. One in three Texan children is overweight or obese, including almost half of all Hispanic children in the state.

The award documentation notes that the program “created a sound logic model linking resources and program design to outputs and outcomes based on social
cognitive behavioral theories and previous research with school garden and nutrition interventions. They incorporated Master Gardeners and Master Wellness volunteers to support the project.”

The pilot program was tested in three Nueces County elementary school classrooms in the spring of 2012, where it garnered praise from teachers and administrators.

“Other than the garden itself, I really liked the Walk Across Texas math activities. They were easy to incorporate to get kids up and active again,” said Dr. Dolores Tapia, teacher, Evans Elementary School, Corpus Christi. “I already have Walk Across Texas math lessons incorporated into next year’s lessons!”

“What really turned it around was the enthusiasm from the kids,” said Dr. Arnold Barrera, principal, Evans Elementary School. “Teachers saw it right away. I would love to continue this project in my new school.”

“Notable changes in key behaviors related to obesity were documented at the end of the pilot project including reduced soda and sugar drink consumption, increased vegetable preference and consumption, increased physical activity and increased time and variety of activity with parents,” Warren said.

Nearly 24 percent of boys and more than 13 percent of girls “transitioned from an unhealthy to a healthy weight status by the end of the pilot project,” she said.

Team members in the family consumer sciences family development and resource management unit included: Alice Kirk, AgriLife Extension child health and wellness specialist; Michael Lopez, AgriLife Extension program specialist; Gabby Mayer, AgriLife Extension assistant; and Warren.

Team members in the department of horticultural sciences included: Jayla Fry, AgriLife Extension Master Gardener specialist; Randy Seagraves, AgriLife Extension Junior Master Gardeners curriculum coordinator; Karin Wallace, AgriLife Extension assistant; Caren Walton, AgriLife Extension Junior Master Gardeners project specialist; and Lisa Whittlesey, AgriLife Extension Junior Master Gardeners program specialist.

The team member in the department of agricultural economics was Dr. Dean McCorkle, AgriLife Extension agricultural economist. The team member in the department of nutrition was Dr. Sharon Robinson, AgriLife Extension food and nutrition specialist.

Additional team members included: Dr. Susan Ballabina, AgriLife Extension associate director for program development; Norma Davila, AgriLife Extension family and consumer sciences agent for Nueces County; Gloria Fernandez-VanZante, AgriLife Extension agent, Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, Nueces County; Dr. Elaine Fries, AgriLife Extension regional program leader, Corpus Christi; Rusty Hohlt, project specialist, Nueces County; Dr. William “Alex” McIntosh, professor, Texas A&M department of recreation, park and tourism sciences; Michael Potter, AgriLife Extension agent, horticulture, Montgomery County; Brittany Rico, Texas A&M department of sociology; Dr. Marcia Ory and Ashley Wilson, Texas A&M school of rural public health; and Dr. Alexandra Evans, Dr. Deanna Hoelscher and Carolyn Smith, all with the University of Texas School of Public Health, Michael and Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living.

More information on the Texas GROW! EAT! GO! project can be found at http://groweatgo.tamu.edu/ .

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