Hundreds of schoolchildren, parents, and community members came together at the Lyford Elementary School Health Fair on March 7 to thank The Aetna Foundation for their $35,000 gift supporting the Creating Healthy Eating Choices for Kids (CHECK) program.
CHECK connects Lyford third and fourth graders with nursing and dietetics students at The University of Texas-Pan American, who facilitate weekly interactive sessions that promote the adoption of healthy food choices which children can share with family members. The program is also engaging the South Texas Initiative for Child Nutrition through Agriculture in UTPA's Department of Community Engagement to work with the school to plant an above-ground fruit and vegetable garden that will extend students' connection to the sources of their food and further empower them to incorporate healthy food choices into their lifestyles.
The program is being coordinated by Doreen Garza, executive director of UTPA's Border Health Office, in collaboration with Dr. Lilia Fuentes, MSN Program director, and Dr. Melinda Rodriguez, assistant professor of nursing.
Aetna Foundation President Dr. Garth Graham, M.D., M.P.H. described the corporation's regional grants program as very competitive and said the foundation chose to support the CHECK program because of its potential to improve nutrition knowledge at a young age.
"We know that when kids learn healthy eating habits at a young age, they are more likely to have a lifetime of good health," Graham said. "We anticipate that students will learn what it means to eat a healthy, balanced diet, and put that knowledge into action as they help grow fruits and vegetables in their school garden."
Lyford CISD was selected as a partner to develop and test the six month CHECK program because of its small size and its well-developed parental engagement and school health programs.
Dr. Eduardo Infante (BA '80, MED '90), superintendent of Lyford CISD, said the program will not only help children but also parents to make better, more healthy choices.
"We hope to see parents helping children, encouraging children. Ultimately, children eat what parents serve them so we hope to have parents make healthier choices to serve their kids," he said.
Building on the program's success in Lyford, the CHECK team and UTPA's College of Education is already seeking to replicate the program with a larger Rio Grande Valley school district.
Dr. John Ronnau, dean of the College of Health Sciences and Human Services, said the University is excited to work with the Lyford school district to help provide young people the information they need to make healthy food choices.
"We want to make an impact to help reduce the amount of obesity and diabetes in Texas and in the nation, and kids are the secret to that. We can only do that through these kinds of arrangements with local school districts, so this is a tremendous opportunity for Pan American. And we're very appreciative of Aetna's support to make this happen," Ronnau said.