UH BOUNCE program aims to improve health of underserved children
Elementary and middle-school children from underserved communities in the East End and Third Ward who participated in a UH nutrition and exercise program are seeing lower rates of anxiety and sleep deprivation, according to the program’s executive director.
The program, Behavior Opportunities Uniting Nutrition, Coaching, and Exercise, was founded in 2005 by Norma Olvera, a University professor and BOUNCE’s executive director at the College of Education. BOUNCE is a community outreach and research initiative dedicated to reducing obesity-related diseases among underserved Hispanic and African American communities.
“The BOUNCE program started from a class I took as a Ph.D. student at UH that centered on childhood obesity,” Olvera said. “We looked at the literature, and we realized that there were very few programs that targeted minorities so there was a need.”
The program began small, with Olvera working with a group of Hispanic and African American girls ages 9-14 in summer workshops.
Olvera, whose research interest centers around childhood obesity, said they observed that 20 percent of children were able to lose up to 16 pounds in four weeks and most importantly, they were able to maintain the weight.
BOUNCE has quantified the improvement of their current students in their most recent program, and they found positive results for the children’s waistlines along with their anxiety and sleeping patterns.
“We found that our exercise program called Lace-Up and Move, made a difference to our participants,” Olvera said. “The children in the experimental group were able to decrease their anxiety level and sleeping pattern compared to the children in the comparison group.”
BOUNCE has grown into a variety of classes and programs that benefit children and their parents, such as after-school exercise and nutrition programs for children. Other activities include gardening, a summer wellness program, shopping tours, nutrition education programs for parents, cooking demonstrations and 5K Fun Run/Walks.
This year BOUNCE celebrates its 15th anniversary and its impact on the surrounding University community. With more than 20 participating elementary and middle schools, 10,000 families reached and 2,500 participants in their BOUNCE Fun Run/Walk, Olvera is exploring new initiatives and partnerships that could positively impact the local community.
“We’d like to create summer programs in which we actually incorporate STEM components related to nutrition and exercise for minority girls,” Olvera said.
In this program, Olvera aims to instill a love for learning the scientific concepts of food science. Students can learn why different kinds of food have different effects on the body and the processes of how exercise helps decrease anxiety and improve moods.
Along with summer programs, BOUNCE is continuing its expansion of gardening classes in local schools. Children can learn to grow vegetables and incorporate them into their meals.
BOUNCE has presented their research in national and international conferences, most recently in Cuba. They have also received recognition and awards from state-level organizations, such as the Texas Public Health Association and the Texas Department of State Health Services.
The program recently opened applications for their “Eye to the Future” paid internship for UH students interested in nutrition and public health. The internship hopes to develop the next generation of childhood obesity educators, and its deadline to apply is March 5.
Olvera said it’s a way to support the local UH community and good experience for students who are interested in going into the health or nutrition fields.
“The University of Houston has an excellent opportunity being surrounded by the Third Ward community and the East End,” said Olvera. “We can encourage children to form healthy habits and teach them how to be active. It’s a great way for our students to gain experience and provide their expertise for a good cause.”