Move over French fries.

Sweet potatoes, kiwis, and broccoli are now indulgences at South Grove Intermediate School.

“We used to have students who didn’t know what a kiwi was. They didn’t know there were different kinds of melon,” says Tonya Reid, principal at the Beech Grove school for grades 4–6. “These were not foods introduced to them in their home. We changed what foods we served at our school and enacted Project 18. Now students are asking for those foods and loving them.”

With nearly one-third of Hoosier children ages 10–17 overweight or obese, Indiana is facing serious problems for years to come. Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at St. Vincent created the anti-childhood obesity campaign Project 18 to encourage Indiana children and their families to make healthy choices that could make a lifelong impact. Ball State students’ partnership brought the campaign into schools and grocery stores through an immersive learning experience.

Project 18 has touched more than 100,000 students in 550+ schools. Students are addressing major risk behaviors through nutrition, physical activity, and holistic health. Ball State students collaborated with St. Vincent on an 18-week school-based curriculum, created a plan and materials to support a grocery program, and formulated public relations strategies. Started in 2009, the program reaches 76 counties and 121 communities across the state. 

“We see children’s attitudes and health habits changing here at school, and parents tell us they see improvements at home,” says Kelley Newman, ’06, a physical education teacher at South Grove. “Ball State students helped write a curriculum with more hands-on exploration for students than I’ve ever seen.”

South Grove’s drive to change the way student think about overall health led to the creation of 35 nutrition videos that Project 18 now makes available for all schools to include in their curricula. The school was named Project 18 Challenge Winner for 2010 and received a visit from Peyton Manning and $2,500 for fitness equipment such as bosu balls, hand weights, gator balls, jump ropes, and squishy cones.

“Holistic health really got kids talking, not just about the dangers and issues with drugs, alcohol, and tobacco, but bullying, cyber bullying, what you say and do with texting, and self-esteem,” says Newman, who earned her BS in physical education.

“When they learn about how food, attitude, and exercise affect their overall health, kids are more open to talk about it. Students are coming forward with information about problems that in the past they would not normally have said anything about. Project 18 makes them feel comfortable with themselves and others.”