STAR Student Sees Results from HealthyNOW Program

By Katrina Dupins

He’s one of many students across four rural Arkansas School Districts who has participated in the HealthyNOW program, a web-based effort designed to encourage students in fifth through eighth grades to live a healthy lifestyle through exercise videos, fitness and nutritional counseling via digital health. Farber has lost nearly 20 pounds since he began the program in fall 2018.

“My favorite activity is the Toy Soldier,” he said. “I’ve taught it to my little sister. It’s my mom’s favorite, too.”

Farber and King prepare to record weekly fitness challenge.

Farber and King prepare to record weekly fitness challenge.

Nathan King, outreach and education coordinator for the STAR Program helped develop the HealthyNOW program. Each week he uploads a new physical activity challenge to the UAMS STAR website and social media pages.

HealthyNOW is a part of the School Telemedicine in Arkansas (STAR) program, which began in 2016 with a $1.2 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). The other districts are Magazine, Lamar and Jasper.

“The program is designed to use digital technology to reach kids where they are,” said Curtis Lowery, M.D., director of the UAMS Institute for Digital Health & Innovation. “It’s part of our responsibility to help im

prove the health of everyone in the state of Arkansas. With this technology, we’re able to reach school-aged children in ways we have not been able to before.”

Farber has noticed his increased energy over the past several months. He can now almost do a one-handed pushup. He’s changed his eating habits, too.

“I don’t drink sodas anymore. It’s rare for me to eat candy. I might eat a piece if I haven’t had one in two weeks.”

Sydney Turner is a fifth and sixth grade teacher at Wilson Intermediate School. She has noticed that students who participate in the HealthyNOW program are more aware of what they put in their bodies as well as their physical activity. At first, many of them were apprehensive to take part. Now they can’t seem to get enough.

“They want to be more active,” Turner said. “Students come up to me regularly telling me they’re keeping track of their fats, carbohydrates and physical activity. They’re excited to tell me about the changes they make.”

Turner, a former basketball coach, has a background in physical education. She works to make class time available for her students to participate in the weekly challenges together.

“They hate when we’re not able to make it happen,” she said.

At the end of the school year, the class with the highest number of participants at each of the four districts will be rewarded with a smoothie party.

During its pilot year at the Magazine school district, more than half of the participating students reduced their body mass index number with HealthyNOW. In 2018, researchers at UAMS received a $10,000 grant from HRSA to create an app to serve as a portal for HealthyNOW to make it easier for the kids to access the content through their smart phones.