Dr. Jacqueline Jones of Berkshire Pediatric Associates is partnering with The Nutrition Center to launch a new after-school kids cooking and nutrition education program in Pittsfield this school year.
The partners are acting under a $12,000 pediatric grant it received from CATCH (Community Access to Child Health), a national program of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health's Body Mass Index (BMI) screening data, 34 percent, or 2,559 children in the Pittsfield public school district are considered overweight or obese.
BMI is calculated by using a formula that compares a person's height and weight with a set of BMI standards by gender. If a person's BMI number is above the 85 percentile, they are considered to be at risk of obesity; a BMI above the 95th percentile is an indicator of obesity.
"Learning basic cooking skills during childhood has been shown to lead to life-long behavior changes for better health," said Peter Stanton, director of The Nutrition Center. He holds a master of science degree as a registered dietitian and is a state-licensed dietitian/nutritionist.
The nonprofit Nutrition Center provides community-based-nutrition education, cooking classes and clinical nutrition counseling for better health and disease prevention. This summer, it opened a new office and moved its administrative headquarters from Great Barrington to Pittsfield.
The new after-school program, modeled from the center's Food Adventures program, will allow children to develop a healthy relationship with food by preparing meals and snacks through a fun, hands-on, interactive approach. Chef and nutrition educator Morgan Kulchinsky will be coordinating the new Pittsfield program with Jenny Schwartz, education and outreach coordinator at Berkshire Co-Op Market.
"[Obesity is] such a huge problem in our population. We want to give parents and kids tools to be healthy," said Jones.
She said she finds that some parents don't know how to cook for their children using healthier, unprocessed foods.
Through the new grant, The Nutrition Center will conduct 50 cooking classes over the next six months, potentially reaching 500 children between the ages of 3 and 15. The classes will be held after school at community sites in Pittsfield, like the Christian Center and KidZone Inc, as well as Morningside and Conte community schools.
Jones said that having the new Nutrition Center program and nutrition programs like those offered through Berkshire Health Systems' Operation Better Start, can give Pittsfield a leg up in lowering obesity among families.
"They offer yet another tool, another resource," the pediatrician said.
Jones said she hopes the new sites and classes will help engage families more with healthy practices.
"There's a stigma attachment [to obesity]. It's seen as more of a parental failure more so than a very real disease process," said Jones. "We have to do something for kids because these are little bodies that going to have to last several, several years."
In addition to partnering with pediatricians, The Nutrition Center will also be partnering its programming with IS-183 Art School of the Berkshires' after-school programs at Morningside. It will do more work with Conte's community garden as well.
Stanton said the center's goal is to continue to seek grants to help expand nutrition programs for kids and families in the Berkshires. Already, the center offers programming with support from Pittsfield's human service grant program, Berkshire Bank, Greylock Federal Credit Union, Berkshire Life and the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation.
For more information on The Nutrition Center, call (413) 429-8110, visit online at www.thenutritioncenter.org on in-person at 42 Summer St., Suite 201 in Pittsfield.