Health Care

Grant takes USC child care activity study to next level

Obesity begins early, and so does the need to encourage physical activity.

With that in mind, the Duke Endowment has awarded a $556,030 grant to University of South Carolina researchers who are leading the way in devising methods for enhancing activity in child care centers.

Russ Pate, a public health professor at USC and director of the Children’s Physical Activity Research Group, has been studying activity in preschool settings for more than a decade. While most people assume the challenge is getting children to stay still, a USC study using devices that measured movement found just the opposite. Children in child care settings often don’t move enough to get physical exercise, Pate said.

“They seem to always be active, but they’re not really constantly on the move,” he said.

That same study indicated some strategies that seem to remedy the problem, including incorporating physical activity into pre-academic work and modifying the playground environment to encourage more movement.

The Duke grant will allow Pate’s team to partner with a child care center to come up with the ways to best incorporate those types of strategies into real world settings.

“This is a chance to take the findings in the research we’re doing and translate it into practice,” Pate said. “So often you do the research and write papers and make presentations, but it’s not often you get to actively work to use research findings to make changes.”

The obesity epidemic, once mainly a problem among adults, in the past decade has filtered down to children. In South Carolina, 15.2 percent of children ages 2-5 are overweight and another 12.8 percent are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The grant allows a three-year process, with a year to work with child care teachers to come up with the best ways to get youngsters more active, a year to do a pilot test in one child care center, and a third year to refine the plan and implement it in about 30 child care centers.

One of the basic ideas is to provide more mobile play equipment such as tricycles, hoops and balls as opposed to static jungle gym-type equipment, Pate said.