Indiana University

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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Last modified: Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Fit University: A focus on health and nutrition for teens and the experts

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 1, 2012

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A wellness initiative that brought together a health and fitness marketing expert from Indiana University's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation and middle school students in Bloomington concluded, appropriately, with a flurry of activity and fun.

Batchelor Middle School students, divided into three teams, traveled to various stations outside the school as they competed to see which team could expend the most calories. Zumba, bowling, a 40-yard sprint and jump rope were just some of the activities the students tried out.

Malik Laffoon, an eighth-grader who runs cross country and track and plays basketball, needs little help keeping active, but he knows an active lifestyle does not always come easy for other students.

"Just get your friends to do stuff that you like to do, and it will be more fun," he said.

Fun and play are at the root of Antonio Williams' organization, Fit University: MVP, where MVP stands for Moderation, Variety and Play.

A marketing and branding expert in the School of HPER's Department of Kinesiology, Williams created this school-based program to both learn about and influence students' perceptions about nutrition.

"The research component is looking at marketing and brand perceptions," Williams said. "As public health researchers and practitioners, we need to re-brand and position health and fitness in the minds of children. The messages we send are speaking at them, rather than to them. Children are loyal to brands like Apple, Nike and Starbucks that cater their marketing messages to them."

For the six-week pilot program, Williams and his graduate assistants met weekly with 300 Batchelor students to discuss body image, eating on the go and physical activity. Students looked at menus for fast-food restaurants, for example, and talked about the healthier choices available.

Laffoon said the program influenced how he manages his calories. He said he has cut back on the amount of fat he eats and is eating more fruits and vegetables. He also has begun reading food labels more regularly.

Jeana Kerr and Sarah Fiden, physical education and health teachers at the school, and Principal Eric Gilpin said the program supplemented their ongoing health and wellness efforts, and they certainly agree with the need to examine how healthy living information is communicated to teens.

"They know that eating healthy food is important, and that physical activity is good for their bodies," Gilpin said. "But the messaging is the challenge. How do we talk about it so it doesn't seem like work?"

Williams said they did not measure students' body mass indexes, weights or other fitness aspects for this very reason. In addition to the lectures, the program used social media to reach students and their parents. Students were more likely to use Facebook, for example, while the messages on Twitter more likely were read by adults.

The pilot program was supported by a grant from Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Indiana and received non-monetary additional support from the Indianapolis Colts, Monroe County YMCA, Force Fitness and Performance, Hoosier CrossFit Bloomington, Vitamin Shoppe, The President's Challenge and the School of HPER. Williams said he plans to tweak the program and then make it available to other schools. He also plans to spin off different Fit University components targeting specific demographics, such as baby boomers or low-income families.

About Fit University

The Fit University is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to creating cutting-edge wellness initiatives designed to change perceptions and empower individuals, families and communities. Developed in response to the prevalence in obesity among Americans, our mission is to be a catalyst for change and provide Americans with tailored educational resources to achieve their goals, all the while serving as an intermediary between them and companies that seek their services.

Williams can be reached at 812-855-3061 or aw22@indiana.edu. For more information about Fit University, visit fituniversity.org.


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