Swain Scholars promote healthy choices for children in Horry Countyby Brian Druckenmiller
South Carolina is the eighth fattest state in the nation, according to a report presented by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The report indicates that more than 30 percent of S.C. residents are overweight.
A group of Coastal Carolina University science students is attempting to improve these alarming statistics by instilling healthy values in Horry County children.
“Positive Beings at Palmetto Bays” is a project developed by students in the Swain Scholar Program to improve the health of children by focusing on nutrition, physical fitness and hygiene. Twenty-five children who attend Palmetto Bays Elementary School stayed after school as junior Swain Scholars Christine Po, Janeel Reeves, Katie Roach and Iesha Wade visited them throughout the spring semester. Their visits included educational sessions and interactive activities to promote healthy choices in a hands-on and entertaining way, allowing the children to figure things out on their own.
“It was a really good turnout,” said Christine Po, junior health promotions major. “We made an impact bigger and better than we expected.”
Children created their own healthy diets, learned when to wash their hands, and got the chance to try new things through a blind taste test.
“Kids have perceptions about certain foods,” said Po. “However, some of this comes from the way it looks or the name of the product. When we blindfolded them, they tried healthy foods and actually liked them for the most part. The attending parents were super eager too, and wanted to know where they could find these foods.”
Through these activities, children learned the health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables and the importance of physical activity. Perhaps the most valuable lesson they learned was how to be confident enough to ask their parents to buy healthier foods. An often overlooked fact is that the quality of a child’s diet is dependent on the parents’ grocery list and budget. Having the courage to ask parents to switch to skim milk or wheat bread may be tough, especially to parents who enjoy non-healthy foods. The program was successful in promoting this idea, and both children and parents left with a new outlook on nutrition.
“It was nice to see the parents get involved,” said Po. “It’s hard when children cannot make the choices, but many parents wanted to make a change, wanted their children to live healthy, and that was gratifying.”
The faculty director of the Swain Scholar Program is Sharon Thompson, professor of health promotion and a nutrition expert. Created through a gift from retired Myrtle Beach pharmacist Kenneth Swain, the program awards a $5,000 annual scholarship to eight students (four juniors and four seniors) for research and outreach projects related to health science. While seniors are on their own to come up with a plan, each new junior class creates a plan together guided by faculty. This year, Thompson, along with her junior students, met with Palmetto Bays school officials to perform a needs assessment, and used the data to create a program with the students’ needs in mind.
“This year, we wanted a broader project, something the whole school could take interest in,” said Thompson. “Although there is only so much we could do in a year, I am very pleased with this year’s project.”
Swain Scholars also visited the school throughout the year to volunteer in the cafeteria as well as conduct Math Night with children and their parents.
For her senior project next year, Po hopes to work with campus dieticians to research the health of a college student—how eating on the go and the stress that comes with a typical semester can lead to an unhealthy student body.
“Other colleges and universities have volunteer programs like this,” said Thompson, “but [the Swain Scholar Program] is unique because it adds a research component. With tangible results, we can set specific goals and achieve so much more. It’s hard work, but it’s fun.”