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Healthy Pokes Program Works to Improve Child Health and Wellness

December 1, 2015
a girl and a boy jumping rope
Jumping rope is among physical activities in the Healthy Pokes program. (UW Photo)

Participants in a University of Wyoming program to enhance child health already are showing improvements in a number of areas.

Launched in 2014, the Healthy Pokes program is an integrated approach to address obesity and overall health of at-risk youth in Wyoming, says Director Karen Gaudreault, an assistant professor in the UW College of Health Sciences’ Division of Kinesiology and Health. A team of faculty members, along with both graduate and undergraduate students from Kinesiology and Health and the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources' Department of Family and Consumer Sciences, leads the program.

Heathy Pokes focuses on the health of the whole child, Gaudreault says.

“We know that child health is a multifaceted issue, and there are many things that determine whether or not children are healthy or unhealthy, at risk for developing overweightness, make healthy nutritional choices and engage in healthy personal social behaviors,” she says. “Healthy Pokes is just one of the ways that we’ve come up with to try to address these issues.”

The program has four components: physical activity, nutrition, behavioral health and mentoring. The physical activity portion is not just about learning how to exercise or work out in a traditional sense, but different ways for the children to be physically active.

“Any movement is good movement, so we want them to just move more -- both during our weekly sessions and at home,” she says. “Sometimes it looks like exercise, and sometimes it looks like games or tag or riding your bike or a variety of different things.”

The children learn ways to engage in physical activities at home and about eating nutritious and healthy foods. They learn how to make and eat a snack each week, and parents receive a recipe book with snacks the children already know how to make.

“We also measure their levels of confidence in all of the program areas, asking them if they feel confident finding enjoyable ways to exercise or make good nutritional choices,” Gaudreault says. Other factors include lifestyle habits such as quality of sleep, and screen time -- the amount of time children spend watching television, using iPhones or computers -- because there’s a connection between physical activity and screen time.

two boys using scooter boards in gym

Children enrolled in the Healthy Pokes program enjoy fun activities at UW’s Corbett Gym. (UW Photo)

Although Healthy Pokes is a relatively new program, the researchers have noticed small decreases in waist circumference, and the children report less screen time and increases in physical activity. They also report they eat more fruits and vegetables.

Part of the program’s success, Gaudreault says, is how much the children enjoy working with their college student mentors. Most children say working with the mentors is the most enjoyable part of the program.

“The kids tell us they love coming here, and we are seeing some positive results in both lifestyle habits and body size,” she says.

To watch a video about the program, visit

About Healthy Pokes

Childhood obesity has reached epidemic status in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years. Currently, approximately 32 percent of children aged 2-19 years are classified as overweight or obese, while 18.4 percent of children aged 6-11 are obese.

The program focuses on children in grades 3-8 (ages 7-14), through a multidisciplinary and longitudinal intervention to address child health. The program runs for 10 weeks during each academic semester, with the students participating in one two-hour session per week.

Healthy Pokes has operated in Laramie since 2014 and is now launching an expansion site at Cheyenne’s Laramie County Community College (LCCC), with the help of the Exercise Science Department and its students.

The program is funded by Wyoming Department of Health, Cheyenne Regional Medical Center and Ivinson Memorial Hospital. Local partners in Laramie include: Albany County School District 1, Laramie Physicians for Women and Children, and Wal-Mart. Partners in Cheyenne are LCCC, Laramie County School District 1 and Cheyenne Children’s Clinic.

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