Furman Engaged! is a day to celebrate research, creativity, and community. Launched by the Office of Undergraduate Research and Internships in 2009, the annual event brings the Furman community and visitors together for a day of presentations, posters, and performances across campus.

On April 14, nearly 600 undergraduate students shared their experiences in research, creative activity, internships, study away, and service learning in the natural sciences, social sciences, arts, and humanities.

Childhood obesity is arguably one of the more pressing and complex public health issues in the United States. The Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention cites studies showing dramatic increases in obesity among youth, doubling in the 6-11-year-old range and quadrupling in the 12-19 age bracket since 1980. Today, more than 30 percent of our children 6-11 years old in the U.S. are considered overweight or obese.

While the national stats are troubling, the local numbers are even more sobering—35 percent of youth in Greenville County are overweight or obese. But LiveWell Greenville and its partnership with the Greenville County School District aim to stem the rise in the condition (and its attendant health risks) with their school nutrition intervention, Culinary Creations Initiative—the subject of several student posters at Furman Engaged!

Health Sciences major Kelsey Kinderknecht's '15 poster, "Food Fight: Combatting Child Obesity in Greenville County Schools," describes the goals of CCI. Battling obesity on three fronts, CCI promises to improve the nutritional environment in schools through menu redevelopment, and changes in the way incentives and fundraisers are carried out.

Retooled elementary and middle school menus across the county saw modifications like offering oven roasted chicken versus breaded chicken tenders or teriyaki bites, bumping up vegetable quantity and variety, and adding whole grain breads and super food fruits like honeydew melon over canned peaches—options that exceed USDA requirements.

So with the addition of healthier options in the cafeteria, it makes sense to also stay on the same page for incentives. CCI encourages non-food incentives such as games, pajama days, and extra recess for good behavior and attendance.

For a lot of years, coupons for a personal size Papa John's pizza were offered to elementary and middle schoolers to reward perfect attendance. LiveWell and GCSD teamed to craft a healthy alternative featuring light cheese, grilled veggies and whole grain crust. Senior Abbey Myers looked at this shift in her poster, "When Research Gets Cheesy: Papa John's Pizza Delivering Healthy Incentives to Greenville County Schools."

Another component of CCI is school fundraising, an activity rife with cookie dough, candy bars and other not-so-healthy food options. CCI has marshaled the use of 5K runs, color runs or "Boosterthons" in lieu of food-centered fundraising.

Menu overhauls are mandated by Greenville County Schools and Greenville County Nutrition Services, but implementation of the incentive and fundraising programs advanced by CCI hinges on the choice of school administrators. Statistics crunched by Kinderknecht indicate a sea change among CCI schools. Administrators in CCI schools are more likely to respond positively to survey questions about incentives and fundraisers that employ non-food options than administrators in non-CCI schools.

While the jury is still out on what CCI means for childhood obesity in Greenville County, one thing is clear—CCI is moving schools in the right direction by presenting healthier alternatives. Other studies by Furman students will examine changes in Body Mass Index over time across a sample of nearly 14,000 youth in 3rd-5th grades. Health Sciences student Sarah Clark '16, presented "Cracking the Code: What's for Lunch in Greenville County Schools," at Furman Engaged! As part of her research, Clark wrote code to summarize data at the school and district levels, and to test the significance of associations between BMI and socio-demographic variables.

Working alongside Health Sciences professors Alicia Powers, Ph.D., Meghan Slining, Ph.D., and Natalie The, Ph.D., students have the chance to affect real change in Greenville County Schools. Their findings and the continued work of LiveWell Greenville in partnership with GCSD will be the drivers of nutritional policy change, and eventually a healthier youth population in Greenville County.

- by Tina Underwood, Contributing Writer

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