By Shelley Grieshop
COLDWATER -- How could soaking chicken bones in vinegar teach children about the importance of calcium in their diet?
During the last four weeks, students at Coldwater Elementary School saw firsthand that bones left in vinegar and deprived of calcium became soft and breakable -- just as theirs would if they do not eat the right foods.
"Getting enough calcium in these kids is not just good now while their bodies are building that bone mass, but later when they're older," says Registered Dietitian Julie Hemmelgarn of Mercer Health.
The eight-week "Calcium Expeditions -- Strong Bones, Strong Teeth, Strong You" lesson for third- through sixth-graders (about 450 students) was introduced to the boys and girls courtesy of Mercer Health and a 3-A-Day National Education Grant it secured this year. The program is helping the school fulfill a state-mandated wellness policy.
Two $5,000 grants were awarded in both Ohio and West Virginia by the National Dairy Council in an effort to teach the "3-A-Day of Dairy" nutritional guideline that also promotes physical activity. Norwood Community Partners of the Cincinnati area was the other Ohio grant recipient. Hemmelgarn said seven out of 10 boys and nine out of 10 girls do not get the calcium their growing bodies need. However, those statistics from the Dairy Council likely aren't completely accurate for children in the Grand Lake area, she admits.
"We live in a pretty good area overall where parents do make an effort to give their children the nutritional foods they need," Hemmelgarn adds.
The program began in late September as students met once each week with Hemmelgarn during their physical education class. Topics each week included Uncovering Bone Basics, with the bone experiment; Exploring the Flavors, getting children to try a variety of dairy foods; Mapping Out The Facts, teaching how to read food labels to determine fat and calcium content; and Putting the Pieces Together, an overall review.
Students also were asked to log each minute they spent doing physical activity for one month, with prizes awarded to those meeting weekly goals. Each class participated in calcium challenges by dividing into teams with names like Yogo Heads, Cheese-a-rino's and The Royal Dairy's.
Hemmelgarn was startled to learn how many students had never tasted some of the calcium-enriched foods she used during the program.
"During the taste testing some of the third- and fourth-graders said they'd never tried cottage cheese," she says.
Parents need to introduce foods to their children that provide the needed calcium, she says.
"The kids are learning which foods provide the most calcium in their diet so they can help the whole family make better choices," Hemmelgarn says.