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La. Tech receives R37 grant to improve child health in North and South Louisiana

Published: Aug. 5, 2021 at 4:28 PM CDT
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RUSTON, La. (KNOE) - A research team at Louisiana Tech has earned one of the most prestigious grants from the National Institute of Health. The R37 grant allows them to continue their research on improving children’s eating habits and their goal is to get more kids to start eating fruits and vegetables at a young age.

The nearly one and a half million dollars in grant money will fund the teams’ research which includes 4,800 children and 480 teachers in Arkansas and Louisiana. Nearly half of those students and teachers are in Head Start programs in North and South Louisiana.

Dr. Julie Rutledge is one of the professors’ spearheading the research. She says the curriculum, known as WISE is designed to get children to eat healthier so they expose them to fruits and vegetables in healthy recipes that they can make.

“It’s an eight-month curriculum, each month focuses on a different fruit or vegetable and at the beginning of the month, the teacher introduces the new fruit or vegetable by utilizing our program mascot, Wendy Wise. She’s a friendly owl,” said Dr. Rutledge.

Rutledge says 4 out of 10 children in Louisiana are overweight by age five and are more likely to remain overweight as an adult. But they hope to lower that number by exposing more pre-school children to this curriculum. They’ve also learned teaching this at school translates into the home and even changes behaviors.

“Their child went with them and threw a temper tantrum because they wanted to get food in the fruit and vegetable aisle. Which, you know, in one way, it’s exciting for us because they’re taking what they learned through our program at school and they’re wanting that when they get home,” said Dr. Rutledge.

Peyton Percle graduated from La. Tech and has been working on this research since she was a student. She said it’s especially meaningful to her because of her eating habits as a child.

“Just knowing the difficulty I had as an adult, trying to change my eating habits. I think it would have been so impactful if I would have had access to this program as a child. Maybe we would have been able to influence my eating habits earlier on,” said Percle.

The grant money given is a five-year award. After that more funding will be determined for the last two years of research.

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