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Summer Camp Fights Diabetes

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Anyone who witnessed 14 UC Berkeley students leading a hundred kids through scavenger hunts, making healthy trail mix, and creating artwork at Oakland’s YMCA last summer might have guessed that they were watching any counselors at a kids’ camp.

But these undergraduates were no ordinary counselors. They were research assistants in a Center for Weight and Health project led by nutrition Professor Sharon Fleming and Cooperative Extension Specialist Joanne Ikeda. The one- and two-week camps were the first phase of an ambitious, two-year project aimed at reducing the risk of Type 2 diabetes in overweight 9- and 10-year-old African American children by encouraging physical activity, promoting self-esteem, and teaching good eating habits.

The encompassing nature of the study allowed the student researchers, many of whom were funded by CNR’s Sponsored Projects for Undergraduate Research program, to tailor their individual roles in the project to their own interests. For example, Sara Hakimzadeh, a pre-med nutritional sciences major, designed and taught nutrition classes. Other students collected and analyzed blood samples, conducted surveys, or led fitness activities. Even hiccups in the study—subjects failing to show up, for instance—served to teach students the realities of research.

Over the next phase of the study, the young participants will continue with activities that reinforce nutrition education, and their risks of diabetes will be charted and compared with participants who receive similar education through very different approaches. The student researchers hope that the intervention part of their study will help keep the kids they worked with out of the high-risk category for diabetes. Meanwhile, Fleming and Ikeda hope to hone a strategy that can be adapted to fight diabetes in many communities.

-Stephanie Tran

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