Second grade students throughout Hancock County are learning how to lead a healthy life in a fun and creative way by using “Super Food Super You,” an interactive book written and designed by a team of four University of Findlay Master of Physician Assistant students and two graphic design students. A collaboration between the University and the Hancock County Health Department, this activity booklet resembling a comic book is an effort to combat child obesity in Hancock County.
Previously, the Hancock County Health Department started a program to teach young children about nutrition and exercise but found that the lessons taught in the classroom were not often supported at home as much as they were at school. The goal of the book is to link the lessons taught in the classroom to the parents at home. With a grant to complete this project, the Hancock County Health Department brought the University on board to help create the book, lead participating classes and gather data.
The timing of this opportunity was perfect for a team of four physician assistant students who were in search of a capstone project and hoped to incorporate pediatrics, primary care and community outreach. With this opportunity, the team landed a project that would allow them to create an educational program to be implemented in area schools, and to research the students’ knowledge of healthy living and their behaviors when selecting food.
“It teaches them how to be healthy, how to protect themselves from germs and how to select healthy food,” said Cara Davies, Ph.D., associate professor of neuroscience, anatomy and physiology and coordinator of the cadaver lab. “A lot of the kids in these particular schools are at or below the poverty line. Mom and dad are struggling financially, and it’s a way to expose the kids to healthy food that maybe mom and dad aren’t serving at home because it’s cost prohibitive.”
After creating surveys for the second grade students to test their knowledge of healthiness before and after going over the book and gathering the content for it, the team realized that they could not accomplish the design of the book on their own. This led to a collaboration between the physician assistant students and two graphic design majors who took on a design with a super hero theme.
Graphic design major Madelyn Miller created the book’s main character while recent graphic design graduate Stephany Hineland ’16 created a story to go along with the lessons in each section. In the early planning stages, the illustrators wanted to incorporate super hero fruits and vegetables, but instead decided to create one super hero that embodied germs, exercise and all food groups.
“We decided to come up with a character that would guide children through the book. The character couldn’t be a human because who would we make it look like? We also didn’t want to make it a boy and have the girls not like the character, or make it a girl and vice versa,” explained Miller. “I came up with a likeable and cute character that had no gender and no race so that everyone could relate to it.”
Once the book was complete, it was disseminated among four schools and the second graders were guided through each section. At the end, the physician assistant students taught the second graders exercises that could be completed anywhere, such as running in place and jumping jacks.
The post surveys indicated improvement among all participating schools in each of the five constructs, which included:
- Knowledge of the benefits of fruits and vegetables
- Self-efficacy to choose a fruit or a vegetable as a snack over a junk food
- Preferences for fruit and vegetables
- Knowledge of the benefits of exercise
- Knowledge of exercises
“We found statistically significant improvement in two of the four schools,” said Elizabeth Dachenhaus, second-year master of physician assistant student. “This was promising because the two schools that showed significant improvement had the highest percentage of free and reduced lunch, which means they’re at the highest need and greatest risk of child obesity.”
As a result of the success found in utilizing the “Super Food Super You” book to teach healthy living, the Hancock County Health Department plans to implement the booklet in more area schools. The Clubhouse, a free literacy outreach service located at the University for children in Hancock County, will also share electronic copies of the booklet with its visitors.
Not only did the team of physician assistant students complete a successful project that incorporated pediatrics and community outreach, they also found collaborating with students from other disciplines to be beneficial.
“This project was a great way to exercise our ability to work with other professionals and make a difference in the health community,” said Dachenhaus. “The skills we developed in time management, collaboration, goal setting and identification of an at-risk population with the development of a solution are great experiences for us moving forward in our career as physician assistants.”