UAMS Telemedicine Program in Magazine School District Reduces Obesity

More than half of obese fifth through eighth graders in the Magazine School District reduced their obesity in the last year after participating in a program by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Center for Distance Health.

The program is part of the School Telemedicine in Arkansas (STAR) program that began in 2016 to combat health disparities in four rural Arkansas school districts. It is funded by a $1.2 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Part of the STAR program focuses on reducing and preventing obesity and is designated HealthyNOW.  From October of 2017 through April, HealthyNOW was piloted in the Magazine School District in Logan County.

When the program began, 62 students—or 39 percent—of the 159 students in the Magazine School Districts fifth through eighth grades were categorized as obese based on calculating the students’ body mass indexes (BMI), a measure of body fat based on weight in relation to height.

By the end of the program year, 51 percent of those students had a lower BMI.

“We couldn’t be more pleased with the outcomes,” said Tina Pilgreen, project coordinator for HealthyNOW. “Not only did we have great results, students were engaged and excited to learn about physical activity and healthy eating. More importantly, they took the information home to share with their families.”

HealthyNOW was carried out through a partnership of UAMS and the University of Central Arkansas’ Exercise Science and Dietetic Programs. The program had two tiers — Tier 1 was obesity prevention providing weekly physical activity challenges and rewards; Tier 2 added one-on-one exercise and nutrition counseling.

Thirty-one percent of the students participated in the Tier 1 weekly physical activity challenge and some reduced their BMI. Sixty-six percent of the students who were obese and who enrolled in Tiers 1 and 2 reduced their BMI.

Next year, the HealthyNOW program will launch in the Lamar, Jasper, and Malvern school districts, Pilgreen said.

STAR began in September of 2016 in school districts in Magazine, Lamar, Jasper, and Malvern. The first year focused on behavioral health and was designed to provide on-the-spot care for students in need of annual assessments and medication management. Students and their parents or guardians met with a behavioral health provider directly from the school via a live video network. This prevented gaps in treatment and reduced travel time and absences from school and work. Since its inception, nearly 200 behavioral health visits have been conducted through telehealth resulting in 474 hours of saved time and 20,000 fewer miles driven to visits.

The second year results after the first year showed significant promise in combatting obesity and promoting a healthy lifestyle. In the 2018-2019 school year, STAR will launch a teledentistry program in the four school districts.

“We will be using oral cameras that will allow dental health professionals to give a remote exam,” said Gordon Low, APRN, principal investigator for the STAR program. “Our goal is to give students greater access to dental professionals and reduce the amount of seat-time lost due to travel related to routine dental exams.”

STAR also created online educational modules related to physical and emotional health and well-being for any school in Arkansas to access. The HRSA grant will continue through the 2019/2020 school year. To find out more about the UAMS center for distance health and the STAR program, visit http://sites.uams.edu/star/.