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Traveling exhibit addresses state's health concerns
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- A colorful, interactive human body exhibit is part of an effort to change nutrition and health decisions Mississippi's children are making.
Body Walk is a fun-filled exhibit of the human body with nine interactive learning stations. Each station teaches children to make healthy choices for their mind and body. The free exhibit has been seen by thousands of school children across the state in its first semester of use.
The traveling exhibit is sponsored by the Mississippi State University Extension Service, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation, the Mississippi Rural Health Corps, the Office of the Attorney General, Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi and 4-H.
“Some other states with similar exhibits charge schools on a per-child basis to use the Body Walk,” said Lewatis McNeal, exhibit coordinator with the MSU Extension Service. “Mississippi is fortunate to have so many partners to offer this exhibit free to our children.”
Recently earning the title of “Fattest State in the Nation,” Mississippi's next generation desperately needs to reverse this life-threatening trend. The goal for the exhibit is to reach 30,000 children annually from kindergarten ages through fifth grade.
“We know that it's easier to instill healthy habits early than to break bad habits once they are established,” McNeal said. “The kids have so much fun in this exhibit that they may not realize how much they are learning.”
The learning stations focus on the brain, mouth, stomach, heart, lungs, bones, muscles, skin and the “Pathway for Life” station, which recaps lessons learned in the Body Walk. A cast of characters known as The OrganWise Guys help teach the basics of human physiology and how the body responds to different foods and lifestyles. They feature 10 characters such as Hardy Heart; Windy, the lungs; and the Kidney Brothers.
“There is a lot involved in this display, but almost 90 percent of the work is done at the schools before the exhibit arrives,” McNeal said. “In addition to the county Extension staff, the school enlists volunteers -- often parents or teachers -- to help set it up. The school is responsible for finding presenters at each station to teach brief lessons about that part of the body and its functions.”
Penny Holifield, a school nurse with Pearl River Central Upper Elementary, worked with the high school drama teacher to line up presenters.
“We were able to have ninth grade drama students learn parts and provide the information to fourth and fifth graders,” Holifield said. “That way the ninth graders received drama credit, got experience making presentations and learned health facts, too. The elementary students probably were more receptive to the information because it was coming from someone who was not that much older than they are. Everyone enjoyed the experience.”
Holifield, who is part of the School Health Nurses for a Tobacco-Free Mississippi Program and is funded through the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi, said the Body Walk material is some of the “best nutrition information our students have ever received.”
The challenge remains for the information learned to be passed along to the rest of the family.
“These children are not the ones preparing their own meals, but at least they had a graphic view of how much salt and sugar are in different foods,” Holifield said. “Hopefully they will take that information home and tell their parents. We want to see whole families making lifestyle changes.”
McNeal said Body Walk materials for the schools include Take 10! health curriculum, educational videos and two OrganWise dolls. The children receive souvenirs, such as stickers, pencils and bookmarks.
“The health and nutrition education starts before the exhibits arrives and continues after its gone,” McNeal said.
For more information on the Body Walk, contact your local Extension office.