NEW ULM - While you might not consider New Ulm as a trend-setter, in some ways, this town just may be "ahead of the curve."
As anti-obesity efforts nationwide gain urgency, the New Ulm Medical Center is pointing to specific data that its DAAN program, now in its third year, may already be yielding results.
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
University of Minnesota medical student John Pelzel shows the difference between 5 pounds of fat and5 pounds of muscle during his DAAN lesson Thursday at Jefferson Elementary School in New Ulm.For more photos of this event, go to cu.nujournal.com
DAAN is an initiative designed to inspire wise nutrition and activity choices. The word "DAAN" is a Native American term meaning to live a healthy, balanced life.
The program was initially designed and piloted by health experts from Buffalo Hospital and several schools in Wright County, to teach children and their families about healthy living.
The DAAN program is now administered in grades two, three and four in New Ulm public and private schools, reports NUMC Pediatric Dietitian Rebecca Filszar, who consults with the schools and assists with teaching the DAAN curriculum.
The effort reaches approximately 650 local children. This year, it was expanded to second, third and fourth-graders at GFW schools, adds Filszar.
While it is part of the NUMC Childhood Obesity Initiative, DAAN is not a weight loss program, explains Filszar.
"We seek to help the students understand how nutrition affects their bodies," she said.
"It's about good nutrition, how it works, and how to incorporate it daily life."
Participants in the DAAN program are presented with a nutrition and active lifestyle curriculum divided into eight lessons. The lessons can be taught over the course of a school year.
Classes are taught by a classroom teacher, a health science degree student or a registered dietician. The delivery and timing is the teacher's choice.
"We have tried to make this as streamlined as possible, so that it doesn't become a hurdle for the teachers or reduce core curriculum time - we just want it to be part of their lesson plans," says Filszar.
The DAAN curriculum includes nutrition lessons covering the food pyramid, fluids, understanding calories, reading food labels - and putting these components together. Physical awareness lessons include cardio-respiratory function, body composition, and staying and playing healthy.
Each DAAN kit includes things like a skeleton, food models, posters, pedometers and food bingo games.
The classroom curriculum is reinforced in a physical education setting. Participants are also provided with written material for reinforcement at home.
Janel Sasser, a third-grade teacher at Jefferson Elementary School, teaches the DAAN program to her students once per week, with the help of medical educator Jon Pelzel from the New Ulm Medical Clinic.
Pelzel has visited the classroom on several occasions to teach students about the importance of healthy living, exercising, and making smart food choices, says Sasser.
"This is my third year implementing the DAAN program into my health curriculum," says Sasser.
"I strongly believe that the DAAN program has helped students to learn exactly what it takes to live healthy, make wise nutritional choices and encourage active lifestyles."
"In the past years, I have had nursing students help with instruction.This is the first year that an actual health educator has been brought into the classroom. Jon has been a positive addition to my health curriculum.The students look forward to the days when Jon brings his expertise into the classroom. The students see his excitement about health, and in turn they become excited about the topic."
But, back to the data:
To judge the effectiveness of the program, a survey was administered at the beginning and again at the end of the 2007-08 and 2008-09 school years, covering the program's cognitive, behavioral and educational outcomes.
This analysis examined daily soda, milk, and fruit and vegetable consumption among students in the program.
Specifically, a test was conducted to compare these variables among second-graders at the beginning of of the 2007-08 year and third-graders at the end of the 2008-09 year - that is, the same group of students after two years of exposure to DAAN intervention.
The variables improved over time, particularly for the students who were in the program the longest, the surveys showed.
The most significant change was a 10 percent decrease in the number of students who drank soda daily from the 2007 pre-survey to the 2009 post-survey - 24 percent of second graders in 2007, versus 14 percent of third-graders in 2009.
Though not statistically significant, other results showed a 7 percent decrease in the number of children who said they drank milk less than daily (23 versus 16 percent); and a 3 percent decrease in the number of children who said they ate fruits and vegetables less than daily (46 versus 43 percent).
The DAAN program appeared to be beneficial in improving fruit and vegetable, milk and soda consumption, concludes Filszar.
The decrease in soda consumption seemed to be accompanied by a compensatory (though not statistically significant) increase in milk consumption.
Filszar is awaiting the results of this spring's survey (coming up later this month), which will provide more information about trends.
She notes that more research is needed to test the program in a more rigorous trial. Filszar lists some limitations to the research: the small sample size, the variable response rate, the self-reported behavioral measures.
However, she points out, given the prevalence of obesity, widespread application of DAAN, or similar nutrition education programming, could aid in reducing excess caloric consumption.
Filszar refers to the anti-obesity effort announced by First Lady Michele Obama.
In campaigns to reduce obesity, Filszar notes, "I like to think we've been thinking ahead of the curve..."
The DAAN program is funded by the Optimist Club of New Ulm and NUMC Foundation.