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Alcorn, Head Start partner to combat childhood obesity

JUSTIN SELLERS / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Marley Brown, 4, digs dirt for a future garden Wednesday morning during the “My Body Matters” program at Thompson Head Start Center. The program, done through a partnership with Alcorn State University, targets young children to teach the importance of proper nutrition and exercise for life.
JUSTIN SELLERS / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Marley Brown, 4, digs dirt for a future garden Wednesday morning during the “My Body Matters” program at Thompson Head Start Center. The program, done through a partnership with Alcorn State University, targets young children to teach the importance of proper nutrition and exercise for life.

NATCHEZ — Two education institutions are hoping local children find tools to healthy living by getting their hands a little dirty.

Alcorn State University and Head Start are partnering for a program called “My Body Matters” created to combat obesity at a young age, Dr. Martha Ravola said.

Ravola is an associate professor in Alcorn’s department of human sciences and the project’s director.

“My Body Matters” will focus on three areas: energize, exercise and educate, Ravola said.

JUSTIN SELLERS / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Madisyn Carr, left, and Jayden Perry, both 3, till up dirt for a future garden Wednesday morning during the “My Body Matters” program at Thompson Head Start Center. The program, done through a partnership with Alcorn State University, targets young children to teach the importance of proper nutrition and exercise for life.
JUSTIN SELLERS / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Madisyn Carr, left, and Jayden Perry, both 3, till up dirt for a future garden Wednesday morning during the “My Body Matters” program at Thompson Head Start Center. The program, done through a partnership with Alcorn State University, targets young children to teach the importance of proper nutrition and exercise for life.

The energize part of the program, Ravola said, will involve teaching children healthy eating habits, mainly eating vegetables.

“Children tend to get fruits in juices and other foods, but vegetables is the group that suffers the most in the diet,” Ravola said.

Head Start children will be planting and caring for their own vegetables in raised-bed gardens at the center.

“They will grow their own vegetables, learn how to identify them and eat them and, hopefully, develop a taste for them,” Ravola said.

Children will also participate in “constructive and structured” physical activities, Ravola said, during their 30-minute play period, as well as in the classroom. Ravola said Cheryl Givens, a physical therapist and fitness expert, is providing guidance on physical activities for the children.

The program kicked off Wednesday at Head Start, and AJFC Community Action Agency CEO Sandra Sewell said the children were excited about gardening.

“They had the hoes and the rakes out, and they got to feel what the actual soil felt like as well as the seeds,” she said. “They seemed to be very excited about the whole prospect of being outside.”

AJFC administers the Head Start program.

Sewell said by engaging the children in healthy habits at an early age, the habits are more likely to stick with them to adulthood.

“The assumption is that if children are doing these things, if they’re encouraged to eat more vegetables, if they engage in these kinds of physical activities, that’s going to teach them to be more cognizant of healthy living,” she said.

The idea, Ravola said, is to nip obesity in the bud by forming healthy habits in children at a young age.

“It is a known fact that Mississippi is the fattest state in the nation,” Ravola said. “Instead of dealing with adults who have developed habits, we are trying to nip this thing in the bud by catching them young.”

But parents will be involved, too, Sewell said.

“(The program) also incorporates involving the parents and promoting physical activities with them and having food demonstrations,” she said. “The project itself is not going to have full success unless parents have a full understanding of what all this means.”

For more information about “My Body Matters,” contact Ravola at 601-877-4717 or mravola@alcorn.edu.