In the 2018-19 school year, Morrilton Intermediate School was the setting for the Champions For Health Pilot Project, an innovative effort to help improve the health of the school’s students, teachers, and staff members.
Champions For Health, formerly known as the Arkansas Heart Foundation, is a nonprofit organization established in 2015 by Dr. Bruce Murphy, CEO of Arkansas Heart Hospital. Its initial mission was to improve the heart health of Arkansans, but in 2018 it switched its focus to addressing the childhood obesity epidemic.
The pilot project at Morrilton Intermediate School included placement of water stations in the school cafeteria, construction and maintenance of tower gardens in the science lab, and student fitness assessments and adult body mass index (BMI) screenings at the beginning and end of the school year. Teachers and staff members also were encouraged throughout the school year to participate in professional health coaching sessions, attend lunch-and-learn sessions on health topics, and include activity sessions for students in their classes.
The Arkansas Center for Health Improvement conducted an evaluation of the project. Our findings include:
- Eighty-five percent of students said in surveys that they used the water stations, and 70% said they drank more water during the day because of the stations.
- Thirty-seven percent of students said they were consuming fewer soda beverages and drinking more water by the end of the school year than they were at the beginning of the school year.
- Forty-three percent of students said they were consuming more fruits and vegetables by the end of the school year.
- Forty-one percent of students said they were eating fewer candies, cookies, and cakes by the end of the school year.
- On average, students classified as overweight at the beginning of the school year showed a significant weight decrease by the end of the school year.
- Students classified as obese at the beginning of the school year showed a decrease in weight, but the difference was not statistically significant.
- Forty-three teachers and staff members received BMI assessments and were measured for body fat at the beginning of the school year. Of that group, 20 received BMI assessments and 18 were measured for body fat at the end of the school year.
- The 20 teachers and staff members who received BMI assessments at the beginning and end of the school year lost a statistically significant average of 1.45 BMI units over the school year. As an example, this translates to a weight loss of 8.4 pounds for a woman who is 5 feet, 4 inches tall.
- The 18 teachers and staff members who were measured for body fat at the beginning and end of the school year lost a statistically significant 1.8% of their body fat.
ACHI found noteworthy changes in students’ health behaviors and in the body composition of students who were classified as overweight or obese at the beginning of the school year. We also found that although fewer than half of the teachers and staff members who participated in the project at the beginning of the school year remained committed to the project throughout the school year, those who did participate throughout the school year showed significant average weight and fat loss.