Youth Nutrition and Physical Activity Program Expands
In 2004, the UK Cooperative Extension Service launched the LEAP Program - Literacy, Eating and Activity for Preschool Youth. The program is designed to help children learn healthy behaviors at a very young age. Research studies indicate that children as young as two are eating a high-fat, low-fiber diet and that less than 20% of school children eat the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables. LEAP is targeted to improving these statistics.
This summer, LEAP expanded in focus to include youth ages 3-8 and the "P" in the acronym changed to Primary. The expansion of the program was driven by the fact that Extension professionals, paraprofessionals, and volunteers found the lessons which revolve around storybooks appealing to students in grades K-3 as well as preschoolers.
The expanded LEAP curriculum incorporates twenty-two children's books with a message about eating a variety of foods, being physically active and/or adopting safe and healthy activities. From emphasizing the importance of tooth brushing with "Clarabella's Teeth" to encouraging physical activity with "I.Q. Gets Fit" to promoting eating vegetables with "The Surprise Garden," LEAP engages youth through interactive literacy lessons.
In Fleming County, paraprofessionals working with nutrition education programs use the LEAP materials frequently. Through monthly "Book Cook" programs with a local elementary school, nutrition program assistant Gwen O'Cull reads books from the LEAP program. Youth and parents then prepare food depicted. "This program has drawn a lot of interest and many new foods are now being prepared and consumed by the children," shared Donna Fryman, Fleming County family and consumer sciences agent. Fleming County extension also utilizes the LEAP program with Head Start classrooms and has trained high school students in Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) to teach the lessons in Head Start.
The LEAP curriculum was developed through a partnership including UK Family and Consumer Sciences Extension, the Kentucky Department of Education, and the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services. The Kentucky Department of Education Nutrition and Health Services provided storybooks utilized in the lessons for each county. Curriculum development was funded through Extension's Health Education through Extension Leadership (HEEL) program, which was made possible by Senator Mitch McConnell with funds earmarked for the University of Kentucky, College of Agriculture, Lexington, KY and budgeted through CSREES/USDA Federal Administration.