Pair will work to implement anti-obesity program in Galveston schools

Two graduate students from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston have been named Albert Schweitzer Fellows by the Houston-Galveston Albert Schweitzer Fellows Program.

ThuyQuynh Do and Karon Wynne were chosen for the fellowships on the basis of a plan they submitted for an anti-obesity program in Galveston elementary schools.

“I’m so happy we were selected and will be part of the Schweitzer organization,” Wynne said. “It’s a great honor to be involved with a group so dedicated to helping underserved communities, and we’re counting on being able to draw on their experience to make our project a success.”

Inspired by renowned physician and humanitarian Albert Schweitzer, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his medical work in French Equatorial Africa, the Schweitzer Fellowship aims to develop what it calls “leaders in service” to address the health needs of underserved communities. As Schweitzer Fellows, Do and Wynne will receive guidance from mentors and support from regular meetings with the 10 other fellows in the Houston-Galveston area.

Do and Wynne intend to work initially with third-graders at a single school, involving them in a variety of activities aimed at encouraging healthier nutrition and exercise choices.

“We’re working with third graders because we want to start before they’ve developed too many poor habits, but have reached a level where they have a fairly high understanding and can do more complex tasks,” Do said. “We also want them to incorporate some of the writing they’ll do with our activities into their classroom activities, so we thought it would be good to work with an age group that can read and write fairly well.”

This summer, Do and Wynne are working out the details of their curriculum, taking input from teachers, administrators and parents. Overall, they envision a program with four levels.

“The first level of the program is an educational curriculum that will teach the students about nutrition, eating habits and physical activity, and how these factors correlate with their health,” Wynne said. “The second is a physical activity component, where we’ll host events that will get the kids moving and the third is to meet with parents, have focus groups and look at their knowledge about nutrition. Finally, we want to look at possible administrative-level changes that could be made, like improvements to the cafeteria system or physical education curriculum.”

Do and Wynne have enlisted the Junior League of Galveston County as a partner in the project. They’re also planning to recruit other UTMB students to help make expansion of the program possible, bring students from different disciplines together on a common project that will benefit the community, and establish the program as a long-term endeavor.

“We want this project to be sustained after we leave UTMB,” Do said. “To do that, we’re going to have to incorporate other people from the beginning.”