TTU is one of several organizations to receive funds in a settlement, totaling several million dollars and distributed by the state Attorney General’s office.
The university received $200,000, which was used to construct a motor development lab for the health and physical education department and fund a nutrition study conducted by the School of Human Ecology.
“This is an interdisciplinary project that has definite ramifications in workforce development, quality of life and community health,” said Sue Bailey, TTU’s director of Human Ecology.
Her school’s study monitored the eating habits and analyzed the nutritive value in the diets of about 110 children, ages 3-5, selected randomly from daycare centers and head-start programs throughout the Upper Cumberland.
Of that total, 61 percent of the children were found to be at risk for becoming overweight, and 23 percent already were overweight for their ages. Only 16 percent were at normal or slightly below-average weights.
“It’s natural for parents to worry whether their children are getting enough vitamins and minerals in their daily diet, but our study found that the vast majority of kids we studied are getting way too much of most nutrients,” Bailey said.
“That’s no healthier than if they were deficient in those vitamins and minerals,” she continued. “Too much dietary protein, for example, can lead to kidney damage — and some of the children we studied were getting adult-sized percentages of protein in their diets by age five or younger.”
Diets were also high in calories, fat, carbohydrates, sodium and various vitamins, all of which could increase the children’s future risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, various forms of cancer and obesity.
The only mineral deficient in all monitored age groups was potassium, and the diets of children ages 4 and 5 did not include high enough levels of fiber.
“We were surprised to find that so many children this young are eating such poorly balanced diets — and we hope this study serves as a wake-up call to parents,” Bailey said. “These habits have to be changed for the future health and well-being of our children.”
When the School of Human Ecology began to realize the results of its data, it partnered with the Child Care Resource and Referral Center to offer nutritional education workshops and food preparation workshops to child care providers, and two nutrition workshops for parents are being planned for next month.
Getting children to be more active with age-appropriate activities that enhance their motor skills — such as jumping and landing and hand-eye coordination — goes hand-in-hand with a balanced diet, said Patricia Jordan, interim chairperson of TTU’s health and P.E.
So her department, with its new motor development lab, has sponsored a workshop to show preschool teachers how to incorporate such age-appropriate activities into their programs.
Additional workshops are being planned for public school teachers, parents and other early childhood professionals.
“Motor development is essential for enhanced brain development, which directly increases a child’s cognitive development,” Jordan said.
The optimum environment provides certain kinds of activities for the sequential development of motor skills.
“Our lab includes state-of-the-art, developmentally-appropriate equipment that can help children from birth to age five improve their motor skills,” Jordan said, “and its features are comparable to any other motor development lab in the nation.”
It can even accommodate special needs children.
In addition being used for workshops, the lab is also used routinely by students in the health and P.E. department’s motor development class and by teachers and children participating in TTU’s Child Development Lab program.