Youth Fitness & Obesity Institute

The Youth Fitness and Obesity Institute was established in 2001 with funding ($233K) from the Department of Health and Human Services to address the physical activity and nutrition needs of children and adolescents particularly in rural settings.  This institute provides the foundation for research and development activities designed to address the growing concerns related to youth fitness levels and childhood obesity.

Activities conducted during the initial year of operation comprise the Physical Activity and Nutrition Among Rural Youth (PANARY). Thirteen school districts across Iowa and over 2,000 youth were directly involved with Institute activities during the first year of operation.  Additional activities have been directed towards establishing an infrastructure and creating a network with other agencies/institutions within the state that support the Institute's mission. 

For FY 2003, the Institute received notification that $700K was appropriated from the federal government to continue the PANARY project and create two new projects titled, "The Rural Iowa Preschool Movement Startup Project" and "The Nutrifit Experience: Healthy Lifestyles for Young Children". 

The Institute plans collaboration with the Global Health Corps, Freeburg Early Childhood Center and Iowa schools/early childhood education centers to conduct these program activities.  The Institute will continue to seek external funding from federal agencies and private/public corporations to provide support for existing and newly proposed projects related to the Institute's mission.



Physical Activity and Nutrition Among Rural Youth (PANARY)

The original program of the institute designed to enhance school physical education and nutrition programs through:

  • The selection, development, and distribution of educational resource materials.
  • Professional development training and technical assistance provided to school personnel.
  • Ongoing surveillance of dietary and physical activity behaviors of youth.
  • Mini grants to participating schools.

More than 60 schools and 10,000 children across the state of Iowa have participated in the PANARY Program since its inception.  Plans are to continue support for current participants and recruit a small number of new schools.  Program focus is on enabling schools to enhance physical fitness, physical activity and nutrition surveillance efforts.



Nutriactive Experience: Healthy Lifestyles for Young Children

A program designed to promote the development of behavioral and physical skills needed to lead a healthy, active lifestyle.  The Nutriactive Experience is conceptualized as a supplement to existing school-based programs.  The program was developed and delivered to lower-elementary children in selected schools in Black Hawk County during April 2005.  The program components included:

  • a morning walk before school,
  • an active recess period,
  • 90-minute after school sessions focusing on motor skill development and fitness enhancement,
  • nutrition,
  • body awareness,
  • safety,
  • etiquette
  • free play period.

Seventy-four children participated in the four-week controlled intervention program.  The plan is to extend the program to third grade students and to additional school sites in the coming years.



Preschool Lessons for Active Youngsters (Project Play)

A program designed to study the effectiveness of movement programs for young children.  Activities include:

  • The development of a preschool movement education curriculum.
  • Delivery of training workshops for preschool teachers in the Cedar Valley.
  • Distribution of play equipment and curricular materials to local child development centers.
  • Assessment of body composition, motor skills, fundamental movement patterns and selected psychosocial attributes of young children. 

To date, complete measures have been obtained on more than 100 children.  The next phase of the project is to expand the program to additional communities involved in the PANARY project and to test the effectiveness of the movement education curriculum.



HAL, which stands for Healthy Active Lifestyles, is a social-marketing and promotional campaign designed to encourage regular physical activity and health eating among young children.  A Disney artist was commissioned to draw an original character (named HAL) that would become the centerpiece of the initiative.  Upon selection of a Golden Tamarin monkey as the HAL character, a costume was created for HAL, and HAL was animated for the production of a DVD promoting physical activity and healthy eating.  Joey Woody, a former UNI star-athlete and community celebrity,  serves as the spokesperson for the 12-minute video that encourages children to "Get Up and Get Moving."  DVDs were initially distributed to children in elementary schools in Cedar Falls and surrounding communities.  Plans are for the further distribution of the video throughout the state, personal appearances of HAL at community and school events, and the production of additional HAL educational videos.