2007
Project aimed at fighting obesity among Chicago students gets help from Handu

Project aimed at fighting obesity among Chicago students gets help from Handu
March 23, 2007

Phil Brozynski, Media Relations Manager
(630) 829-6094
pbrozynski@ben.edu

A conversation at a meeting for people concerned about childhood obesity led to a $10,000 grant and collaboration on a three-year project aimed at lowering the obesity rate among some of the nation’s highest-risk youngsters. Deepa Handu, Ph.D., a member of the faculty in Benedictine University’s Department of Nutrition, met Chicago chef and caterer Greg Christian at a meeting of CLOCC, the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children. He expressed his interest in helping kids change the way they eat. Handu offered to help. Christian is the founder of the Organic School Project (OSP), a program that brings together educators, public and private gardens, farms, food retailers and suppliers, and health care specialists to combat obesity among young people. OSP is being implemented as a three-year pilot program in three diverse Chicago elementary schools – Louisa May Alcott Elementary School in Lincoln Park, McCorkle Elementary School on the South Side and Hammond Elementary School in Little Village. Thanks to a $10,000 grant from CLOCC, Handu has been evaluating the eating behavior of nearly 1,000 students at the three schools. “My specialty is methodology and analysis,” Handu said. “What we are doing now is more evaluation-focused, rather than going in and making changes without knowing if they will be successful or not.” Handu, a registered dietician, has a Ph.D. in Human Nutrition from Michigan State University and a master’s degree in Food Science and Human Nutrition from Maharaja Sayajirao University in India. Before joining Benedictine University full-time in 2006, she taught nutrition and research courses at Loyola University Chicago. Handu’s research interests lie in the areas of public health nutrition, youth overweight prevalence and obesity risk, and diabetes. She conducted the first statewide multi-clinic study to assess the prevalence of youth Type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome in the state of Michigan, and participated in supplementation studies with patients having asthma and diabetes. She has also been involved in various projects that studied anemia in adolescent girls and pregnant women, the evaluation of meal plans in government schools and other Nutrition and Health Education (NHE) projects. “Obesity is a multi-faceted problem,” Handu said. “You must deal with it from different angles. There is education, there is gardening, there is teaching youngsters how to deal with stress which is often related to eating disorders, and there is teaching them to be mindful of how they feel, what they eat and how much they eat.” In addition to accumulating pre-implementation data, Handu will also perform follow-up studies at the end of the three-year project.

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Benedictine University is an independent Roman Catholic institution located in Lisle, Illinois just 25 miles west of Chicago. Founded in 1887, Benedictine provides 56 undergraduate majors, 16 graduate and four doctorate programs. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently ranked Benedictine University as the seventh fastest-growing campus among private nonprofit master’s universities, and Forbes magazine named Benedictine among the top 20 percent of America’s colleges for 2011. Benedictine University’s Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) program is listed by Crain’s Chicago Business as the fourth largest in the Chicago area in 2011.