Shape Up 2.0

Study finds that a Tufts program on healthy living for kids piloted in Somerville, Mass., works elsewhere

illustration of fruits and vegetables as kids playing outdoors

On the heels of a successful Tufts project to decrease childhood obesity in urban Somerville, Mass., researchers brought a similar intervention program to rural, low-income areas across the country, where children who took part ended up eating more fruits and vegetables than their peers.

The researchers, led by Christina Economos, N96, the New Balance Chair in Childhood Nutrition at the Friedman School and vice chair and director of ChildObesity180, followed Tufts’ Shape Up Somerville model, an approach to preventing childhood obesity that got schools, families and the community involved in changing the eating habits and physical environment for kids. At the end of that program, students in Somerville had gained less weight than students in comparable communities.

For this study, which was published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, eight communities in rural California, Kentucky, Mississippi and South Carolina were randomly assigned to the intervention program or to a control group.

Students in the intervention program were given healthier food options in their school cafeterias and healthy living lessons that emphasized eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables, spending no more than two hours in front of a television or other device and getting at least one hour of physical activity daily.

The average age of the 1,230 participating students was 8.6 years, and at least 85 percent qualified for free or reduced-priced meals, a signal that they came from low-income households.

At the end of the study, the children in the targeted groups consumed significantly more fruits and vegetables than those in the control groups, or 0.22 cups more for every 1,000 calories they ate. For a child eating 1,600 calories per day, that would translate to an extra one-third cup of fruits and vegetables.

“Those in rural America typically experience greater health disparities compared with those in urban areas, including increased risk of diabetes and coronary heart disease as adults,” the researchers wrote. “Therefore, effective interventions that improve the diets and overall health of rural children are needed.”

This article first appeared in the Winter 2014 issue of Tufts Nutrition magazine.

Julie Flaherty can be reached at

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