Ann Millard, Ph.D.

(COLLEGE STATION, TX) — Ann Millard, Ph.D., associate professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center (TAMHSC) School of Rural Public Health McAllen Campus, has been working with the Edinburg Consolidated Independent School District and a community coalition since last year on a pilot project to encourage children and families to engage regularly in walking.

“Physical activity can play a role in reducing diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer, as well as enhance students’ academic performance” Dr. Millard said. “To date, we have initiated the installation of a walking trail with lighting at two rural elementary schools, which students are being encouraged to use before school, during gym class and during recess. Also, teachers are encouraging students to engage in physical activity done in place in the classroom twice daily.”

Several presentations to community groups have been made to educate the populace on the increasingly high rates of obesity among Hispanic children.

“Evaluation of the project relies on before-and-after measures on first-grade students to identify rates of overweight, obesity and sedentary behavior such as playing computer games,” Dr. Millard said. “The project team hopes that increased activity among students will result, along with more healthful weight profiles for these students.”

The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) provided $150,000 to fund the project through this September, which could serve as a model for other schools throughout the state. Nelda Mier, associate professor at the TAMHSC-School of Rural Public Health McAllen Campus, and Isidore Flores, Ph.D., are evaluators of the pilot program.

An additional $42,000 was recently awarded by DSHS to enhance playgrounds at two local elementary schools for use by families not only during the school day but also after hours and on weekends. The principal investigator for this effort is Albert Lopez, RN, coordinator of health services for the school district. Dr. Millard will serve as project evaluator.

— Rae Lynn Mitchell