Wrong kind of growth

EXPANSION PLANS<br>Student Efren Topete confers with Cindy Wolff, CNAP director, on a program to teach school kids about the benefits of healthful eating and exercise.

Student Efren Topete confers with Cindy Wolff, CNAP director, on a program to teach school kids about the benefits of healthful eating and exercise.

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

Cindy Wolff is concerned about how much kids are growing—not up, but out.

On average, she notes, today’s 10-year-old weighs 10 pounds more than his or her parents did at the same age; individually, of course, many children weigh far more. This much-noted epidemic of obesity has consequences that are far more serious than possible teasing on the playground, as bad as that can be. School nurses are finding more and more kids with diabetes, heart problems, and even high blood pressure. “That just isn’t fair to these kids,” Wolff said.

She trying to do something about it. Wolff heads CNAP, Chico State’s Center for Nutrition and Activity Promotion, which was created to build and then implement nutrition and fitness programs for the children of Northern California. It is a win-win agency, providing much-needed information to kids but also giving more than 60 Chico State students paid internships or jobs. The students come from over 10 majors and programs, fostering a well-balanced organization that provides multiple services.

CNAP encompasses seven different programs, including the “5 a Day—Power Play!” campaign, an effort to get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables; Butte County’s “OPT for Fit Kids” program; and the Sierra Cascade Nutrition & Activity Consortium (SCANC).

SCNAC, which focuses on low-income kids, recently received a three-year, $5 million match grant, with money coming in from the USDA and the California Nutrition Network under the auspices of the Department of Health Services, which alone has provided $1.6 million. This money will help the program tremendously in trying to reach kids with a message of healthful eating and exercise.

Just last Friday (Dec. 8), CNAP held an open house at its new offices at 25 Main Street (across from Children’s Park). The new digs are much more accessible to students and employees than the former offices on Mangrove.

Wolff’s office is bright and spacious, with a wall of windows overlooking Big Chico Creek. She seems happy in the new space and believes that it will make her program much more visible to the public, which is important for its success. Also, the program can now “interface very smoothly with the campus,” which is vital for the students who work and intern there.

CNAP has proven popular with Chico students because of the great opportunities for paid internships and the value of the work it is doing. More than two-thirds of CNAP’s interns are paid, and Wolff says those who get the jobs are the best of the best, from all different majors.

One such student is Efren Topete, who worked for the program as a sociology and criminal-justice undergraduate and is now is aiming for his master’s degree in special education. He’s a valuable asset, Wolff says, especially because he is bilingual and bicultural—a plus when working with large Hispanic or Hmong populations.

Topete is also passionate about what he does: “Working with kids brought me back to how much I like it,” he said, attributing his work with CNAP to his decision to get his master’s and a teaching credential.

He did a lot of work with the “Lunch Leagues,” a program under both SCNAC and Safe Schools, Healthy Kids. Topete and fellow Chico State students would go to schools around Butte County and take groups of kids to lunch to discuss good nutrition, handing out pamphlets and encouraging healthful choices. After lunch, they’d lead non-competitive physical activities to demonstrate the importance of exercise.

The program has become popular among kids and also among principals, who see that it has a second effect of reducing bullying. Wolff says she can’t keep up with the demand. She has had to limit the program to schools that are low-income—meaning more than half their students receive free or reduced-cost lunches.

According to surveys done by nursing and nutrition students from Chico State, these schools have a lot of overweight kids in them—more than half, in some cases. “If things do not change, over 90 percent of these [overweight] kids are going to be overweight as adults,” Wolff said. She and her team are doing their best to prevent that.