Jessica Whisler uses a dry measure to demonstrate a serving size of grains to adults in the Strong Bodies Strong Minds program. From left: Griselle Carrion, Nicole Broomer, and Gretchen Shahan.

Evaluating wellness program

Pilot project by UD alum takes aim at childhood obesity

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11:08 a.m., March 21, 2011----A pilot project initiated by a University of Delaware graduate is evaluating the effectiveness of a community-based, family-oriented wellness program to address a serious problem in Delaware and the nation: childhood obesity.

Jessica (Rehm) Whisler, who earned a bachelor's degree in communication at UD in 2005 and went on to complete a master's degree in social work at Widener University, is now a mobile therapist with New Behavioral Network. She launched the pilot project, known as Strong Bodies Strong Minds, at Eastpoint Community Church in Newark, Del., in February.

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Strong Bodies Strong Minds is aimed at educating New Castle County's children and their caregivers on what constitutes a healthy lifestyle and how to implement what they learn into their lifestyle at a low cost.

“We also hope to foster family bonding and collaboration through the use of physical education and nutritional learning,” Whisler says. “We believe that these factors can help establish a foundation of family support around lifestyle change.”

Pre- and post-tests will measure changes in weight, food intake and exercise, well-being and mood, and health and nutrition knowledge.

Whisler's long-term goal is to use this data to demonstrate that the intervention works so that she can apply for a federal grant to initiate a similar program in the inner city targeting low-income families.

She also hopes that once she publishes data on the project, others will replicate it and possibly further demonstrate its effectiveness. “There have been similar models to this in the past, but my version includes a combination of education and behavioral methods that I have not seen prevalent in the research. I know that I'm asking a lot of my participants, in terms of homework and commitment, but I expect to give a lot back to them.”

Whisler is receiving support on the project from UD senior Christine Kukich, a health behavior science major who is doing an internship with SBSM. Kukich is facilitating classes and compiling and analyzing research data. “Her knowledge of health and fitness has been an asset to the teachers in the classroom,” says Whisler, “and her understanding of the research process has been invaluable to the project.”

In addition, seven employees of Christiana Care Health System -- Alisa Carrozza, Matthew Whisler, Janice Rehm, Cherryn Whisler, Kristin Scott, and Elisa Morris -- are serving as teachers, facilitators, and advisers to the project.

Study participants sought

Whisler is still seeking participants for the study, which operates weekly from April through July.

If you live in New Castle County and have a child or children between the ages of 7 and 17 who is willing to participate with you, contact Whisler by email at [jwhisler@nbngroup.com] or by phone at 302-438-3720.

Learn more about Strong Bodies Strong Minds on Facebook.

Article by Diane Kukich
Photos by Doug Baker

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