May 10, 2007

Small portions make smaller people

It takes a village to raise a child, and to make that child a little smaller.

Somerville Massachusetts, with 80,000 residents, like many American cities has overweight children. Tufts University with a grant from the CDC is starting to change that by targeting 1st through 3rd graders in an experiment to battle obesity.

The results after just eight months showed that students in first through third grades gained one pound less than students in similar communities. While it may not sound like a lot, this shift in weight gain over time would actually move many children out of the overweight category.

The grant, Shape Up Somerville: Eat Smart Play Hard.™, was awarded to Dr. Christina Economos (N96) in September 2002 for three years.

The project is a community-based environmental approach to obesity prevention. The interventions take place through community partnerships that create healthy eating and physical activity messages and increase opportunities for physical activity and healthy eating, specifically fruits, vegetables, legumes, low-fat dairy and whole grain products throughout the children’s day. Some of the interventions include:


Shape Up Somerville has been working with restaurants across the city to enhance the options for people and families who eat out. 20 restaurants have come on board and are now “Shape Up Approved”. In order for restaurants to be “Approved” they must meet the following criteria:

  • Offer low fat dairy products
  • Offer some dishes in a smaller portion size
  • Offer fruits and vegetables as side dishes
  • Have visible signs that highlight their healthier options

School Food Service

For the past two years Shape Up Somerville has worked with the Somerville School Food Service Department to enhance the quality and quantity of healthy foods for students. During the first year, a specific fruit and vegetable was highlighted each month in all ten elementary schools and there were taste tests done during lunch periods at all schools.

New kitchen preparation and serving equipment was purchased. All food service staff were trained on nutrition education, knife skills including working with the new equipment, and food safety. New vegetarian recipes were developed and salads were made fresh each day. A La Carte items were changed to meet specific nutritional standards and fresh fruit was made available everyday for breakfast and lunch. Ice cream was made available only one day per week and sugared cereals were limited at breakfast.

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