At the Grant County Community Health Council meeting Monday, Sept. 17, members heard reports from Imagination Library, another on BMI studies and about a new disabilities initiative.

Loren and Barbara Nelson, directors of the Grant County affiliate of Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, are part of 1,600 other affiliates across the country that provide free high-quality books every month mailed to the homes of pre-school age children.

Loren Nelson explained that a child, whose parent enrolls him or her at birth, will receive 60 books by age 5.

"We are less than two years old, and less than a year ago we received our 501c3 non-profit designation," he said. "We started in the Mining District, in Hurley, Santa Clara, Bayard and the Mimbres. It started with eight books being sent out to children. We sought donations, and now we have increased our coverage to every zip code in the county, including 88061 and 88062."

The coverage of the organization has increased from 420 books sent out in May of this year to 840 in September and 995 in October.

"We are now covering 53 percent of the pre-school population in Grant County," Loren Nelson said. "We were the first private affiliate in New Mexico. There are 16 in the state, including on tribal lands. We have made presentations in Luna and Catron counties. The goal is to take the program statewide.

He went on to say that it costs about $2,000 a month for the books and mailing. The books cost about $2.08 per book, in bulk.

Barbara Nelson pointed out that everyone knows the benefits for a child by being read to from birth. "But in order to do that, there must be books in the home."

A panel of pediatricians, psychologists and other experts chooses the age-specific books, with the first book being Parton's favorite: "The Little Engine That Could." Many of the books are Caldecott winners. The last book a child receives on his or her fifth birthday is "Look Out, Kindergarten: Here I Come!"

"In the 22 months we have been doing the program, we have mailed out more than 8,000 books in Grant County," she said. "At the start of the program, most families had fewer than 10 books in the home, and few parents read to their children. The parents are learning, too."

Those Grant County parents who wish to enroll their pre-school children in the program or need from information should contact the Nelsons at 575-534-9156. The Nelsons remind people to be sure to change their address if they move, so that the books keep coming.

Health Council member Mary Stoecker asked if the Nelsons encourage the children and families to get library cards.

"They often ask us where they can return the books," Barbara Nelson said. "They love it when we tell them the books belong to them."

Health Council Coordinator Tiffany Knauf thanked the Nelsons for their work, and said it is exciting to hear that parents are spending time with and reading to their children.

Health Council member Francesca Estevez said there is a movement in New Mexico to have the state fund more pre-school education.

Loren Nelson said he and Barbara had met with Public Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera because "we want to make (the program) statewide. Sen. Howie Morales is also supporting us and we will keep trying."

Stoecker gave an overview of the body mass index results that were presented to the Cobre and Silver school boards.

"Six years ago, both school passed proposals to allow the collection of BMI measurements in kindergarten, fourth, seventh and 10th grades," she said. "We collected and reported the data.  By 2008, we decided we didn't just want to gather data, but wanted to inform the parents of the results, so in 2009, we sent reports to all of the students' parents, and doctors sent information for the parents to discuss with their health care provider."

Stoecker said the program has three prongs—school, community and clinical. Three sites have agreed to pilot programs to try to multiply events and the educational pieces, including programs that address fitness and nutrition. They include the 5210 program, which says that a person should have five fruits and vegetables every day; no more than two hours in front of a screen, such as TV or computer; one hour of physical activity; and zero sweetened beverages.

Aggregate data from the Cobre and Silver Schools shows a slight downturn in BMIs in seventh grade and a smaller decrease in kindergarten and fourth grade.

The BMI measurement initiative falls in line with national recommendations of the Center for Disease control and Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" program, as well as the Surgeon General's Vision for a Healthy and Fit Nation.

Studies show that healthier students have higher test scores, higher productivity and better concentration, fewer behavioral problems and bullying, reduced absenteeism and reduced health care costs. Stoecker presented statistics from California, but said she would love to see a study in Grant County.

Reasons to continue gathering the data include identifying at-risk groups to better develop and allocate resources and develop collaborative interventions and follow up, as well as to build motivation and increase awareness among community members and policy-makers.

Stoecker pointed out that Type 2 diabetes used to be called Adult Onset Diabetes, but is now seen manifesting itself in children. Adults could sometimes manage it with lifestyle changes, but children must be put on medications for the rest of their lives and the condition must be well-managed. Between 2002 and 2005, an increase of 25 percent of Type 2 diabetes was seen in 10-19 year-olds.

She recommended continuing the gathering of data from the four grades, and to continue collaboration among schools, parents and community agencies to address fitness and nutrition. The final recommendation was to address challenges related to implementing an effective screening referral process for those students above the 85th BMI percentile.

Health Council member Chris DeBolt said she would bring it to the attention of the Diabetes Advisory Board.

Dr. Don Johnson, council member and pediatrician, said two of his pet projects had been addressed—early education and childhood obesity. "The scariest is to see kindergarteners entering school already obese," he said. "We have to work on parents. There are lots of opportunities for improvement. Our statistics are worse than the state and national averages. The state is using our data."

He said schools were afraid of changing items in vending machines, but the Coca-Cola vendors said: "We can put in whatever you want."

Western New Mexico President Joseph Shepard, a new council member, pointed out that parenting is the job that is the most challenging and for which parents are the least prepared. "How are we preparing students at the high school level to be parents?"

Stoecker said the problem with obesity is the bombardment of foods that are cheap and full of unhealthy things, but taste good.  Organizations do not want to quit selling them.

Another problem is that federal requirements are stronger that schools should have self-sustaining food programs, so they have to keep an eye on the bottom line.

"What I think parents need to do is, through health skills classes, to learn nutrition components," Stoecker said. "We're hoping the family-friendly check out lines and the public 5210 program will help. Parents have to pick through information and decide what to buy. Parents are the gatekeepers, but too many go with the cheap and tasty."

Johnson said the First Born Program has a nutrition piece. "And I congratulate Gila Regional Medical Center and the breast-feeding program. Prolonging breast feeding through the child's first year is very indicative of the child being less obese."

Stoecker said information is available at various sites, including Hidalgo Medical Services.

The third presentation to council members was from Susie Trujillo and Nikki Zeuner on a new initiative developing for Grant County called the Grant County Disability Advisory Group.  A New Mexico Governor's Commission on Disability Quality of Life mini-grant will fund the initiative, and The Wellness Coalition will manage the contract.  The group is beginning the process of identifying stakeholders (family members, community and governmental agencies, and self-advocates), who are interested in improving the quality of life for residents with disabilities who live in Grant County.  The group has requested to serve in an advisory capacity for the Grant County Community Health Council, the designated health planning authority for the county. Anyone interested in participating may contact Susie Trujillo at the Grant County Community Health Council Office at 575-388-1198 or 575-313-3604.

The rest of the agenda will be covered in a subsequent article.

Live from Silver City

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