The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


The ABCs of health: Program teaches kids Nutrition 101

By Caylor Ballinger \ EL PASO TIMES

Posted: 05/25/2011 12:00:00 AM MDT

Jeremiah Bonilla has learned how to eat more healthfully through a new school program -- a video game.

Jeremiah, a fourth-grader at Burleson Elementary School, has been learning nutritional information while playing a 3D computer game titled "The Quest to Lava Mountain" -- part of a pilot program called NutriGram -- with his class every day for about 30 minutes.

Now when he goes to the grocery store with his mom, he said, he tells her to be healthy. "I tell her to read the calories and the holesterol," he said. "I don't eat chips anymore."

NutriGram was developed by The Cooper Institute of Dallas, founded by renowned health expert Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper, to encourage and explore healthful eating habits.

According to its website, The Cooper Institute "is dedicated to scientific research in the field of preventive medicine and public health and
communicating the results of research to the scientific and medical communities as well as to the general public."

The pilot program for third-, fourth- and fifth-graders is now running in 14 Texas elementary schools. Students create an avatar and navigate
through different levels, collecting food while maintaining health, strength and energy.

Since February, students have been learning that unhealthful foods such as pizza makes their avatar lose health while fruits and vegetables
provide them improved health and energy.

District officials said the pilot program includes two surveys on healthful eating habits, which serve as snapshots of a child's approach to

Don Disney, director of health and wellness for the El Paso Independent School District, said the institute selected Burleson because of its close proximity to the border, its limited English proficiency and its low economic status. Disney said that officials wanted to test a wide range of students, and that the program has been extremely successful at Burleson.

"I think this tool, along with encouraging physical activity, has a shot of turning the tide in child obesity," he said.

Leonor Dozal, a fourth-grade teacher, said her students love the game and have become more focused during regular lessons because they know if they behave, then they get to play the game. Dozal said parents have told her that their child now insists on more-healthful food, resulting in weight loss.

"I have several who have become label readers," she said. "Some parents have said they're (child is) stopping them from buying junk food."

Iliana Ramirez, a fourth-grader at Burleson, has reached level 10 on the game but became worried when her avatar looked as if it was dying. She quickly gave it needed healthful food and saw her avatar rebound to a healthier state. Iliana said playing the game is her favorite part
of the day.

"I play at home every night when I get home," she said. "It teaches me to eat better food instead of junk food."

Caylor Ballinger may be reached at; 546-6133.