Illinois 4-H program helps kids establish healthy lifestyles
December 14, 2009
 
Illinois youth are learning how to live a more active and healthy lifestyle through a new, innovative program developed by University of Illinois Extension's Illinois 4-H. Funded through a $1 million gift from the Walmart Foundation, the National 4-H Council awarded 15 states with grants to develop, strengthen, and implement healthy living programs at the community level. Illinois 4-H received $50,000 to further its Health Jam youth program.

"The Walmart Foundation is committed to improving the lives of young people and the communities in which they live," said Margaret McKenna, President of the Walmart Foundation. "The Foundation is proud to support the inventive program Illinois developed for 4-H and the impact those programs will have on the health of both participants and their communities."

The Illinois 4-H Health Jam program teaches elementary school-aged youth about healthy lifestyles, good nutrition, physical fitness, and health-related careers. During the nine-week program, youth participate in a two-day overnight camp and an eight-week follow-up. Working in teams, participants exercise 30 minutes daily for a weekly total of 210 minutes. Health Jam teams log their exercise time and convert it to miles walked using a simple formula.

"If team members complete 30 minutes of physical activity each day, at the end of the eight weeks the teams will have walked the length of Illinois from East Dubuque to Cairo -- a total of 448 miles. Teams that complete this challenge receive 'I Walked across Illinois" T-shirts," said Denise Legvold, Assistant Dean and Director of the U of I Extension 4-H program.

In the eight weeks following the 4-H Health Jam camp, students engage in classroom learning activities taught by Extension Youth Development Educators. During these activities, they continue to explore the human body, healthy lifestyles, and the "Walk Across Illinois" fitness challenge.

In September, 93 4th to 6th graders from Lee, Ogle, and Stephenson Counties attended an Illinois 4-H Health Jam held at Camp White Eagle in Leaf River and KSB Hospital in Dixon. Health Jam participants "toured" the human heart, observed the digestive process, filled mock prescriptions, and brushed up on their dental hygiene skills. At KSB Hospital, they interpreted X-ray, ultrasound, and CAT scan images; learned about sleep lab assessments; tested their balance in physical therapy; saved a mock accident victim with EMS; and got a behind-the-scenes experience in the dietary department.

During 2010, 4-H Health Jam programs are scheduled for the following Illinois counties:

* January 1-2 -- Monroe County

* January 12-13 -- Macon and Dewitt Counties (Decatur)

* March 16-17 -- Coles and Moultrie-Douglas Counties

* March 18-19 -- Jackson County (Carbondale)

All Health Jam sites are working with local partners and hospitals to conduct the programs.

"Unhealthy lifestyles have contributed to an unprecedented national epidemic of childhood obesity with increased risk factors for heart disease, diabetes, and other health problems. If children learn at a young age to incorporate physical activity and healthy eating habits into their daily routines, they can develop lifelong habits that may prevent the occurrence of life-threatening chronic diseases," Legvold said. "We are excited about our new 4-H Health Jam program and how it can benefit Illinois' youth and their communities."

For more information about Illinois 4-H Health Jam, contact Madonna Weese at 217-333-9289 or via email at mweese@illinois.edu.