Academics and Research / Magazine

DU partnership encourages healthy choices for rural Colorado kids

Kids climb on a jungle gym

A new Morgridge College of Education project will give kids in rural Colorado increased access to healthy meals and opportunities for physical activity. Photo: Morgan Lane Photography/Shutterstock

DU’s Morgridge College of Education is part of a project aimed at improving children’s health in Colorado’s San Luis Valley and other rural communities in the state.

The project, “Healthy Eaters, Lifelong Movers” (HELM), will increase student access to healthy meals, physical activity opportunities and quality physical education. DU is partnering with the Colorado School of Public Health’s Rocky Mountain Prevention Research Center on the implementation of the HELM project, which is estimated to reach more than 11,200 elementary, middle and high school students by the grant’s end in October 2013.

The partnership received a $1.8 million grant in October 2010 from the Colorado Health Foundation, which says Colorado is one of the leanest states for adults in the nation but ranks 23rd out of 50 for childhood obesity. The project is designed to reverse this trend and encourage healthy habits.

Nick Cutforth, a DU professor of research methods and statistics and a former physical education teacher, and Elaine Belansky, an assistant professor of community and behavioral health at the University of Colorado-Denver, are lead project designers on the effort. The staff also includes a San Luis Valley-based project director and three site coordinators.

“I taught physical education for 10 years in England, Chicago and Denver,” Cutforth says. “Physical education has always been close to my heart. This program combines physical education with my interest in community-based research.”

The funding includes support for one Morgridge doctoral student who will assist the project director with field research in the San Luis Valley and eastern Colorado. Other opportunities for graduate students — including assistantships, internships and practicums — are likely to arise during the project. Cutforth anticipates bringing doctoral students into the field by fall 2011.

During the first year of the project, the research team will begin work with 19 elementary schools in the San Luis Valley and 10 elementary schools in Eastern Colorado. They will expand the program to middle schools and high schools spanning 14 school districts in the San Luis Valley in winter 2012. By 2013, the project will have reached 57 schools across both regions.

“During this period, we will work with the schools to increase the quality of physical education as well as opportunities for physical activity and healthy eating. Sustaining these increases is a crucial part of the program,” Cutforth says.

Cutforth, who has worked in the San Luis Valley for five years, says the Colorado Health Foundation encouraged program staff to include eastern Colorado as part of the grant. The area is underserved and lacks resources, according to Cutforth.

“For 18 months we engaged San Luis Valley teachers, principals and superintendents in a planning process to answer the question, ‘What would it take to improve the quality of physical education in the San Luis Valley?’ and are delighted that the Colorado Health Foundation has recognized our efforts to work with schools to increase student opportunities for healthy eating and physical activity,” Cutforth says.



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