KOKOMO, Ind. —The children playing a lively round of kickball in Indiana University Kokomo’s Quad think they are just playing a traditional camp game.
But the nursing students serving as camp counselors are serving up a healthy dose of education on fitness and nutrition alongside the competition, as part of the campus’s annual FIT Camp.
Sponsored by the School of Nursing and Allied Health Professions, the camp’s goal is to fight childhood obesity, by teaching healthy habits to children ages 6 to 10.
“We want campers to end the week knowing more than they did before, and to take what they’ve learned home and share it with their families,” said Samantha Fouts, clinical assistant professor of nursing and camp co-leader. “Hopefully that will encourage their families to make healthier choices at home.”
According to the Child Policy Research Center, Indiana ranks 21st of 50 states in overall prevalence of childhood obesity, with 29.9 percent of children considered either overweight or obese. However, that number has decreased since 2003.
FIT Camp has had an impact, with more than 6,700 children attending since it was founded in 1997 as an educational program for those with asthma and/or diabetes. It later expanded to include healthy living, and completely shifted focus to health and wellness in 2017. More than 300 nursing students have served as camp counselors.
Nursing student Gaby Hernandez, Tipton, is among this year’s counselors, who developed and led classes based on the MyPlate program, to teach the 34 campers how to choose healthy foods for a balanced diet.
“I thought it would be fun to help kids and teach them about healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, and get them active during the summer,” she said. “When they aren’t in school some of them tend to stay inside and play video games. We want to show them that being active is fun.”
Her classmate Janette Aguilera, Frankfort, said education about nutrition is also an important component to fighting obesity.
“Fruits and vegetables are more expensive at the grocery store than buying a meal from the dollar menu at a fast-food restaurant,” she said. “We’re showing them why to invest in the better food.”
Leading the camp also is an opportunity for nursing students to see if pediatric nursing may be an area of interest for a future career, Aguilera added.
The day includes plenty of activity, including 90 minutes of daily games led by members of IU Kokomo’s soccer, basketball, tennis, track and field, and volleyball teams.
Naomi Jones, lecturer of nursing and camp co-leader added, though, that they’ve talked about the importance of rest and stress management for good health as well, and provided craft time, sidewalk chalk play, and a parachute.
“We have some lower-key activities,” she said. “It’s a long day. Some kids have a lot of energy and can handle being active the entire time, and some kids need more rest breaks.”
Fouts noted that the student counselors have also learned important lessons about nutrition and kept food diaries this week to monitor their own habits. They also learned about how to plan engaging lessons with assistance from Sarrah Grubb, assistant professor of education.
“Some of them came in not making healthy choices for themselves,” she said. “They gain knowledge in this area, and also in how to interact with and provide structured activities for school aged kids, which they don’t typically get a lot of in nursing school.”
Aguilera said working with children showed her the importance of offering encouragement, and making sure everyone is included — a lesson she can carry over to caring for children as a nurse.
“They like to be told we’re proud of them,” she said. “Letting them know they’re doing a good job keeps them committed to the activity. You just have to know how to talk to them.”