Nursing students take health message to fifth-graders

(Independent Mail) Being a nursing student at Clemson University sometimes means that you get to act like a pair of kidneys.

Some nursing students did their best organ impersonations to teach fifth-graders at Centerville Academy of 21st Century Learning how to maintain good blood pressure.

They got into character last week as they held large cutout images of hearts, lungs and kidneys in front of students in the gym.

Clemson student Zak Knowlton pointed to the large heart drawing that hung across his chest.

“I’m a heart, sorry I don’t look like a Valentine’s Day heart, but don’t tell anybody,” he said.

Children giggled as they listened to warnings about smoking and learned that a heart is roughly the size of a fist. Nursing students told them to eat fewer potato chips, soda and candy and more fruits and vegetables to keep their “team” in winning shape. The organs work together, they said, like the Clemson Tigers.

The idea is to educate children to adopt healthful habits so they do not contribute to obesity statistics that keep growing.

About 17 percent of all children and adolescents in the U.S. are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The list of chronic health problems being overweight causes includes high-blood pressure and diabetes, said Kelly Smith, an instructor in the Clemson nursing program.

“We’re trying to hit them at a young age,” Smith said. “It’s important because as we all know in America, obesity is becoming such a problem.”

The Clemson students go to schools as part of their community health nursing class. After the program, they took the blood pressure of children who had parental permission. The school nurse will then continue checking students’ blood pressure and will report abnormal readings to parents. Smith considers blood-pressure numbers below 120 over 80 to be healthy.

In the school visits, nursing students get a chance to practice medicine in an environment atypical of their daily training.

“Most of our clinicals are in the hospital,” said Erin Jaynes, a nursing student. “We don’t get the opportunity to go out into the community a lot.”

Ruby Contreras, another nursing student, said it is hoped that children will go back into their communities and spread what they learned. Ideally, they will learn healthful habits earlier instead of having to unlearn bad habits, such as being sedentary, as adults.

Contreras said she and other future nurses see overweight children all the time at the hospital.

“It makes you think how did they get so bad this early?” she said.

The visits offer opportunity beyond health, too, Principal Kory Roberts said.

Seeing Knowlton, the only male nurse present, demonstrates a vocation that some boys might not have considered.

“A lot of times you never know what’s going to affect a child,” Roberts said.