Obesity causes or exacerbates numerous chronic diseases and conditions that can lead to death, including diabetes and hypertension. In an effort to address the obesity epidemic in Arkansas, the governor-led Healthy Active Arkansas (HAA) initiative was launched to provide a 10-year framework with phased goals to increase the percentage of Arkansans who are at a healthy weight. As part of this initiative and support by funding from the Blue & You Foundation for a Healthier Arkansas, the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement convened five statewide learning network meetings in 2018 to engage, recruit, and activate a network of local champions to assist in meeting these goals. This study, featuring the expansion of health and nutrition programs at Conway High School, is part of a series of case studies highlighting success stories from the HAA Statewide Learning Network.
Leslee Tell, advanced nutrition and dietetics instructor at Conway High School, has been instrumental in bringing health-related opportunities to the school district.
Recognizing an opportunity for her students at Conway High School to become involved in educating elementary students about the importance of healthy eating and water consumption, Tell secured several grants to bring this vision to life. Tell and her students developed a program, which they named the Healthy Cats Nutrition Program, that focuses on four key concepts: drinking water, education about hidden sugars in food and beverages known as sugar shockers, understanding how the growing portion sizes can distort what is considered a normal portion size, and reading nutrition labels. During its first year, Healthy Cats reached about 1,000 Conway Public Schools students in elementary, middle, and high school. Program activities led by her students
Tell also made possible a new program of study for students interested in the field of nutrition and dietetics after receiving a start-up grant from the Arkansas Department of Career Education in 2017.