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Students fight childhood obesity with specialized solutions

ASU students are leading projects to promote healthy lifestyles for children

As a solution for childhood obesity remains unknown, three groups of ASU students recently received grants to lead projects that promote healthy lifestyles for Arizona children.

Backed by Mayo Clinic’s partnership with ASU Obesity Solutions, the groups participated in a university-wide competition this spring that offered grants to groups with creative solutions for the obesity crisis. 

The three winning student teams, including FantasyXRT, Nutritional Health Awareness and Partners in Empowerment, will use this money to apply their solutions throughout the Valley. 

Kinesiology senior Ruben Garcia and his team developed their FantasyXRT project with a motivation of making kids more physically active during the 21st century.

“We have to entwine electronics with physical activity,” Garcia said. “Technology is the way of the future, and it’s going to take away from physical activity, so we need a way to incorporate physical activity with modern technology.”

The team created a prototype for wearable gaming software that children can use with an interactive fantasy football site, motivating children to unlock rewards through exercise.

Garcia said encouraging young gamers to exercise for privileges is the best way to target the increasing population of children interested in fantasy sports.

“Back in my day, the big thing was trading cards and sports cars with kids, but I think the big thing now is fantasy football,” Garcia said. “Fantasy football has taken over and is becoming the modern-day sports card.”

The Nutritional Health Awareness team, led by sustainability student Shovna Mishra and biological science student Kapila Patel, will work to teach children healthy habits by engaging them in physical activities.

Another team plans to target a certain demographic: children in poverty.

Partners in Empowerment, a three-member team working with Phoenix’s Tumbleweed Youth Center, focuses on the daily nutrition of sex-trafficking victims and at-risk youth.

Nutrition & dietetics senior Samantha Flatland, one of the team’s three members, said offering cooking exercise lessons will ultimately benefit the Valley community.

“I think this is an opportunity to give back to the community,” Flatland said. “I’ve lived in Arizona my whole life and giving Arizonan students an opportunity to make a change in their home environment is making an impact.”

Flatland said she wanted to focus on Arizona’s youth because healthy habits should begin at an early age.

“It’s a lot easier to start off eating well and exercising at an early age than trying to break old habits,” Flatland said. “If these kids are starting with healthy food choices, then they can have a healthy lifestyle right from the start. We’re being proactive instead of reactive.”

Biomedical engineering junior Meera Doshi, one of Flatland’s co-members, said preventing obesity is difficult among those at the Tumbleweed Center because healthy food is often more expensive.

“It has a lot to do with money,” Doshi said. “Poor people are at a really high risk of being obese and that is something that I think our society needs to fix while specifically looking at those underserved populations.”

The group’s program will collaborate with the Tumbleweed staff to offer new menu options and provide healthier options for children living at the center.

“After this, we would really like to expand to other places and other populations as well,” Doshi said. “We want to expand our program locally and we’re looking to get the program publicized so that other universities can adopt the same model.”

Reach the reporter at or follow her on Twitter @aimeenplante

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