WV CARDIAC Project focused on healthy children

Youth Health Educator Tracey Valach measures the height of Marlinton Elementary School student Hunter Arbogast during the WV CARDIAC Project health screenings last week. Photo courtesy of Tracey Valach

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

Last week, kindergarten and second and fifth grade students in Pocahontas County received health screenings through the WV CARDIAC Project, provided through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program from the USDA Food and Nutrition Service.
WVU Extension Health Educators implemented the screenings and will continue to provide school-based education components, including healthy cooking classes.

Youth Health Educator Tracey Valach, with the Randolph County Extension Service Family Nutrition Program, was one of the educators who helped the students during their screenings.

“For the little guys, we set up in the corner in their classroom,” Valach said. “We check their height and then we put them on the scale and record it. Then we look at the back of their neck for presentation of Acanthosis Nigricans (pre-diabetic indicator). Then we give them a sticker and send them on their merry way.”

For the fifth grade students, a blood pressure check is added to the mix and recorded with the rest of their data.

“With the older grades, we’re much more discreet,” Valach said. “In fact, we have the students stand with their backs to the scale. In my nutrition classes, we really emphasize that healthy is not a size, which is why the blood pressure portion is so important.

“So for fifth graders, we ask the parents to fill out a form and with those enrollment forms, we are then allowed to take the child’s blood pressure, and the best part about that is that brings the whole picture of health full circle,” she continued. “It’s not just your size, but it’s what is going on on the inside.”

Valach said the screenings are on a volunteer basis, and that parents must sign consent forms before the screening.

“No one is being forced,” she said. “Absolutely not. Parents can opt out, and if a student says, ‘I don’t want to do it,’ then we absolutely do not. Even if their parents filled out the form.

“I try my best to explain to the students, ‘these are your numbers,’” she continued. “I really try to not make a big deal about it and try to be as thoughtful and mindful of their feelings as possible.”

While it’s nice to know health statistics, it’s only half the battle. With the Family Nutrition Program, Valach offers a variety of nutrition classes to help families learn the importance of cooking and eating healthy foods.

“The program – Health in a SNAP – that we’ve been using in our area helps to connect families to resources like healthy cooking classes and access to fresh produce through CSAs,” Valach said. “It’s going to connect parents to resources and referrals. It also gives teachers in the county an opportunity to take continuing education classes in active academics. It’s another great initiative to help teachers incorporate more physical activity into the school days with learning objectives being met at the same time.”

For the healthy cooking classes, Valach said she will travel to accommodate those interested in participating. So far, she has taught several classes in Hillsboro, but is able to travel anywhere in the county.

“Honestly, it all depends on who responds,” she said. “We can teach classes anywhere. I would love to teach family cooking classes if there is an interest.”

Valach taught a class – Supper in a Sack – in Hillsboro last year. The program was sponsored by the CEOS, through Extension, and a Snowshoe Foundation grant.

Participants were taught how to cook a meal and were then given a cooler bag for ingredients to take home to prepare a meal for their family at a later date.

“We played different games with the kids,” Valach said. “They also got to help cook. The parents learned about food safety and proper portion size and that kind of thing. It was a wonderful class.”

Coming up in March, Valach will teach a class at Hillsboro with a focus on healthy breakfast – omelets will be on the menu.
For more information on the WV CARDIAC Project, contact Valach at Tracey.Valach@mail.wvu.edu

Health in a SNAP is offered in partnership with the WVU Extension Family Nutrition Program and provides educational material to the public about making healthy food choices. Programs offered include cooking classes for adults, healthy life skills classes for teens, individualized dietary counseling from a licensed registered dietitian, farmers market produce box vouchers and home gardening education.

For more information on the Health in a SNAP programs, contact Kristin McCartney at 304-356-1310 or by email at Kristin.mccartney@mail.wvu.edu

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