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Nursing students take classroom to community

June 4th, 2007

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When nursing students at the University of Louisville this spring helped a local elementary school conduct student fitness tests, the alarming results prompted them to take action on the children’s behalf.

Ten UofL nursing students tested 540 students in first through fifth grades at J.B. Atkinson Elementary in several areas — height and weight, flexibility, strength and stamina. The elementary school students had to demonstrate how many sit-ups they could do in one minute and had to do as many pull ups as they could.

“I loved cheering on the kids and making them feel good about what they were doing,” said nursing student Erica Magrey. “I saw how just a little bit of encouragement could go a long way.”

When the fun was over, the nursing students compiled the data into a spreadsheet and calculated averages in each category for each grade level. Then they compared the data to standards for each age group, Magrey said.

The results spurred them to action.

“According to the World Health Organization, children are considered at risk for being overweight if their BMI (Body Mass Index, a ratio of body weight to standing height) falls above the 85th percentile for their age group and are considered obese if their BMI falls above the 95th percentile,” said nursing instructor Valerie McCarthy. “We found that the BMIs for a significant number of Atkinson students exceeded these national standards.”

Data comparisons also showed that children at Atkinson start out in first and second grade with normal fitness scores. Their scores, however, begin to slide in the third grade; by the fifth grade, they are significantly overweight and out of shape, compared to local peer and national standards.

Atkinson has no funding for a physical education teacher, a factor that the nursing students believe contribute to the poor fitness testing results.

When the fall 2006 Community Health class discovered there was not enough play equipment for students to engage in physical activity at recess, they put on a Fun Fair to promote increased physical activity and focused on games and activities that do not require expensive equipment or extensive preparation — such as hopscotch and jump rope. They also chipped in to give the teachers boxes of recess play equipment so students could continue to play the games they learned at the Fun Fair.

Building on the work of the preceding semester’s Community Health class, the spring semester students wrote a letter to the school’s principal, the school board and representatives in the Kentucky General Assembly explain the benefits of physical activity for health, learning and standardized test scores, and to ask them to support legislation to mandate physical education in all Kentucky schools.

“Advocacy and political activism is integral to community health nursing,” McCarthy said.

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