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Volume 8, Issue 4
May 2016

Healthier Kids in Flint with CrimFit Youth Program

  • Karin Pfeiffer, Ph.D.
  • Associate Professor, Department of Kinesiology
  • Center for Physical Activity and Health
  • College of Education
The CrimFit Youth Program encourages bicycling as one of many enjoyable ways for friends to keep active together.

The CrimFit Youth Program encourages bicycling as one of many enjoyable ways for friends to keep active together.

Karin Pfeiffer has a special place in her heart for two things: sports and the city of Flint. As an associate professor of kinesiology and member of MSU's Center for Physical Activity and Health, she also has the expertise necessary to combine the two interests by working collaboratively with the Crim Fitness Foundation to incorporate and assess the organization's CrimFit youth programming in the Flint schools and surrounding area.

The CrimFit Youth Program focuses on physical activity, nutrition, and, more recently, mindfulness, the ability to be "present" in the moment, pay attention on purpose, and accept one's feelings and thoughts. Partly based on the Michigan Fitness Foundation's PE-Nut (Physical Education and Nutrition) curriculum, CrimFit complements the curriculum with a wide variety of physical and nutritional activities. Mileage Clubs, after-school sports programming, school gardens, nutrition education, and Brain Breaks, which incorporate physical activities with academic lessons to give the kids a chance to move around and be active, are offered by the program.

"They've been encouraging schools to do more to incorporate different types of physical activities," said Pfeiffer.

The Crim Fitness Foundation is possibly best known for running "The Crim," the HealthPlus Crim Festival of Races in downtown Flint each summer. Originally started by former Michigan House Speaker Bobby Crim as a means to raise money for the Special Olympics, over time the Crim evolved into a foundation, providing grant-funded health and fitness programming throughout the greater Flint area.

“To me the most exciting part of it is that it’s a true partnership. We think about it together; we think of future grants that we want to write together; we talk about their goals for the programming together, and how we’re going to assess them. The Crim is just a really great organization; they’re doing good things in the community and good things for the kids in the schools, and we get to work with them to figure that out.”

Karen Pfeiffer
Associate Professor, Kinesiology

Physical Activity, Nutrition, and Mindfulness

According to Sandy Sellers, R.D., director of programs at the Crim Fitness Foundation, the CrimFit program was initiated because of a lack of funding for physical education (PE) in the schools.

"About 10 or 15 years ago, the Crim partnered with the Flint Community Schools to give them supplemental physical activities," said Sellers. "Schools are recommended to allot 150 minutes of PE per week, and the kids at that point weren't getting anything; currently they're getting 40 minutes of PE a week. So our intention is to fill that deficit."

The nutritional need in Flint schools is just as prevalent: "In terms of the need in Flint, about 90 percent of the kids who attend Flint Community Schools qualify for free or reduced meals," said Sellers. "So there's always a need for nutrition, particularly good nutrition. Flint is considered a food desert. There are very few grocery stores, so a lot of food-stamp benefits are redeemed at stores that don't stock fresh produce."

Pfeiffer's role is to work with the Crim Fitness Foundation and Flint Community Schools to assess and measure the effectiveness of the CrimFit Youth Program. She works with fellow professor of kinesiology and epidemiology and director of the Center for Physical Activity and Health, Jim Pivarnik, as well as several graduate and undergraduate students.

"We go into the schools and measure height and weight to get the Body Mass Index (BMI), so we can tell them a little bit about what's going on with weight status," said Pfeiffer. "We assess physical activity and different nutrition variables, because that's what they're directly delivering and what they need assessed."

The MSU team also assesses various psychosocial characteristics, such as health-related quality of life, perceived competence for physical activity, self-efficacy for physical activity, and self-efficacy for dietary behavior. "The psychosocial behaviors that we look at have been related to either the physical activity or the nutrition component. But now we're assessing mindfulness quite a bit, because the Crim Fitness Foundation has really been into the mindfulness component in the last three or four years," said Pfeiffer.

Positive Outcomes

Pfeiffer is seeing some positive outcomes, especially in fruit consumption, an increase in number of days of physical activity, and lack of increase in BMI.

"I think probably the most encouraging piece is no real change in the body mass index from year to year. That means, since we've had a problem with increasing prevalence of obesity over time, that the programming is doing something or we probably would have seen an increase," said Pfeiffer. "Getting people to be physically active is a pretty easy sell; it has the obvious health benefits, and it has cognitive benefits as well. So I think anything we can do to bring that kind of stuff in [to the schools] is helpful."

According to Sellers, the need for healthy interventions is increasing. "Because of the Flint water crisis, the need is far greater now than it ever has been," she said.

Sellers believes that the CrimFit Youth Program's three areas of focus—physical activity, nutrition, and mindfulness—can help to combat lead exposure. "One of the side effects of lead exposure is ADHD, so we're trying to get kids to be physically active, to burn off the energy, so that they can sit in class. With the nutrition piece, we're doing a lot of education around how we can prevent further lead impacts on the body. And then, mindfulness is actually really interesting. There haven't been specific studies done on how mindfulness impacts lead exposure, but we know that mindfulness helps to stimulate growth of neurons in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that is the most impacted by lead."

Pfeiffer thoroughly enjoys her collaboration with the Crim Fitness Foundation because everyone benefits from it. "I think the thing I really like the best is that this is a situation where we get to collaborate with the community and we're serving their needs, and we can generate some research out of it too," she said. "We've got some manuscripts in progress and several abstracts have been presented and published from the data. The graduate students coordinate the measurement phase, and then the undergrads travel over to Flint and actually do the measurements. So people here at MSU are getting research kinds of experiences, and the Crim is receiving the evaluation results. To me the most exciting part of it is that it's a true partnership. We think about it together; we think of future grants that we want to write together; we talk about their goals for the programming together, and how we're going to assess them. The Crim is just a really great organization; they're doing good things in the community and good things for the kids in the schools, and we get to work with them to figure that out."

In the future, the Crim Fitness Foundation and Dr. Pfeiffer would like to expand CrimFit youth programming into more schools, more grades, and more subject areas (such as "nature-based"). "It's been really exciting. We're trying to get bigger grants and bigger projects, to really make some big things happen," said Pfeiffer. "I like the idea of bringing as much as we can into Flint. We've been able to make some impact, so far, and that feels good!"

  • Written by Amy Byle, University Outreach and Engagement
  • Photographs courtesy of Karen Pfeiffer, College of Education