Groundbreaking Diabetes and Obesity Prevention Program at Colorado State University Receives National Recognition

A groundbreaking Colorado State University program, which is  completing its fourth year of tackling the prevention of type 2 diabetes and obesity using science education enrichment and child-to-parent communications, has received prestigious national recognition and funding.

Program ENERGY is dedicated to obesity and type 2 diabetes prevention in suburban/rural elementary schools with large Hispanic populations. The program was awarded a Science Education Grant from the American Honda Foundation on May 1. This initial one-year, $100,000 grant from American Honda Foundation will provide the funds needed for the implementation of additional "mini programs" at other elementary schools in Southwestern and Northern Colorado, rural West Virginia and Dallas, Texas.

Last fall, the National Center for Research Resources and the National Institutes of Health announced an award of $1.4 million to continue Program ENERGY, which is based in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Colorado State. This new, five-year Science Education Partnership Award is one of only seven awarded in the nation. A previous Science Education Partnership Award from NCRR/NIH supported the initial development and delivery of Program ENERGY.

Obesity and overweight are the second most preventable causes of death, after smoking, in the United States. About 25 percent of children in our nation are considered overweight, and the number of children being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, a disease once thought to occur exclusively in adults, has been growing. Research has demonstrated that a healthy lifestyle of healthy eating and active living can lead to the prevention of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Therefore, teaching youngsters to incorporate elements of a healthy lifestyle is imperative in the effort to reduce these two preventable chronic diseases.

Program ENERGY, as it completes its fourth year in the classroom, now exists in two versions. A full, weekly program of a 60-minute classroom lesson and a 30-40 minute physical activity lesson combined with occasional museum visits and field trips comprises one program. The second version, a "mini-program" consisting of lessons twice a month, is being disseminated to other locations in Colorado and two other states. Both versions are designed to fit into the curriculum and to meet the needs of the educators of each host elementary school.

The program, which began in 2001, is delivered by a diverse team of classroom leaders including biomedical scientists, health professionals, elementary educators, chefs and many graduate and undergraduate students and volunteers from Colorado State. Results for the first three years show that Program ENERGY is meaningfully increasing: health and science knowledge, attitudes such as increased appreciation of healthy food selection and physical activity and behaviors such as increased steps by about one mile per day and increased body acceptance of children in grades 2-4. In addition, a six-to-10 week intervention based on brief weekly newsletters and motivational challenges was effective in increasing diabetes knowledge and physical activity through child-to-parent communication.

Program ENERGY has completed the development of the full program for grades 2-5 at Putnam Elementary School of Science in Fort Collins and has conducted two mini-programs – one with second graders at Putnam Elementary School of Science in Fort Collins and another with second graders at Manaugh Elementary School in Cortez, Colo. The program started with two groups of first- and second-grade students who are now completing 4th and 5th grades.  Putnam Elementary is about 50 percent Hispanic American with 70 percent eligibility for the school lunch program, and has unmet educational needs in science and health. Harris Elementary School in Fort Collins was chosen as the control school because of its similar demographic profile. Manaugh Elementary School in Cortez is about 50 percent Hispanic American and 25 percent Native American, with 70 percent eligibility for the school lunch program, and has unmet educational needs in science and health. Mesa Elementary School in Cortez, which has a similar demographic profile, was chosen as the control school.

Program ENERGY is the result of an active partnership between educators, university scientists and students that is conducted through the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Colorado State. Partners of the program include the Poudre School District in Fort Collins, Montezuma-Cortez School District in Southwestern Colorado, Mercer County School District in West Virginia, the Culinary Arts Program at Johnson and Wales University in Denver, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, and the Children’s Museum of Denver and Discovery Science Center in Fort Collins. Additional partners and donors include the 9Health Fair, Western Dairy Council, General Mills, Poudre Valley Health Foundation, Walk4life, Wild Oats, Naked Juice, Metropolitan Denver Dental Society, FIJI Water, Lara Bar, Honest Tea, Colorado Foundation for Agriculture and several local businesses.

Two components to the Program ENERGY intervention/outreach effort include: an enrichment program using scientists in the classroom to lead hands-on challenging and fun lessons providing information about a healthy lifestyle, how the body works and science; and secondly, the research effort using child to parent communication to increase parents’ physical activity and knowledge about diabetes and the three keys to prevention by maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active and eating a healthy diet.

The lessons and activities that are delivered to elementary school children provide inquiry-based educational enrichment in science and math using examples and exercises from food, nutrition, physical activity, biology of body weight and blood sugar regulation and seeks to teach and reinforce healthy behavioral choices needed to prevent type 2 diabetes and obesity.

Photographs and more information about Program ENERGY are available at