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MSU Team to Study Child Health in Upper Peninsula

Joseph Carlson

Joseph Carlson, MSU associate professor in the Department of Radiology, is leading a team that has received a nearly $300,000 two-year grant from the Superior Health Foundation to address lifestyle issues related to childhood obesity and other health risks among children in the Upper Peninsula. The award will be used to offer Spartners for Heart Health to fifth-graders and their parents living in the U.P.

The Spartners for Heart Health project is designed to promote nutrition and physical activity behaviors to prevent or reduce health risks among fifth-graders. Breanne Carlson, an instructor in health and human performance at Northern Michigan University, and Erich Petushek, an assistant professor at the College of Human Medicine’s Marquette campus, will lead the programming efforts in the U.P.

It will first be presented in Marquette County schools, then expanded to include Houghton and Chippewa counties in partnerships with faculty and students from Northern Michigan University, Michigan Technical University and Lake Superior State University.

The fifth-graders will take part in classroom lessons accompanied by educational handouts and web-based modules with instructional videos, goal setting and tracking. The children’s health measurements are recorded at the beginning and conclusion of the programming and shared with their parents. NMU, MTU and LSSU students in health-related majors will participate in measurements and mentor the fifth-graders.

“Our primary goal is to promote healthy nutrition and physical activity behaviors to promote overall health and reduce obesity and other health risks in children and families,” said Joseph Carlson. “An integral part of the programming is engaging college students majoring in health professions, including pre-med or medical students in service learning electives. It’s a win-win for all.”

Carlson and his collaborators began presenting Spartners in 2008 and have offered the program to more than 2,000 Michigan fifth-graders in seven Michigan counties. It was first disseminated to the U.P. in 2015-16, when Breanne Carlson, Petushek and MSU Extension educators offered it at Ishpeming Public School.

The Spartners grant is the Superior Health Foundation’s largest single gift award to date. It will allow the researchers to test new program components, including a virtual mentor that will provide automated feedback when participants track their nutrition and physical activity behaviors. Parents will also recieive text prompts to encourage healthy behaviors, giving them the opportunity to take part in the program along with their children.

Other contributors include Karin Pfeiffer, associate professor of kinesiology; Rabindra Ratan, assistant professor of media and information; Kevin Henley, curriculum assistant in the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine; and Connie Benedict, Spartners program coordinator in radiology.

The Superior Health Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Marquette, Michigan, that works to address unmet health care needs through education and research aimed at preventing illness and promoting health. Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Michigan also contributed funding for this award.

– Laura Probyn via MSU Today

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