Two Fort Jackson summer day programs have joined eating and exercise researchers at the University of South Carolina to create healthier campers.The Hood Street and Imboden school-age centers -- and 18 other summer camps in the Midlands -- will work to boost physical activity and reduce empty calories during the next four years. The aim is to make the centers examples for others throughout the nation."They may have some standards (already)," USC researcher Michael Beets said of the programs he will work with, but researchers will help center staff develop new standards that will cost very little to implement and pay big dividends in children's health."There is not an initiative like this anywhere else," said Beets, an assistant professor of exercise science and head of the Division of Health Aspects of Physical Activity at the Arnold School. "If it works here, it should work anywhere.Both Fort Jackson programs are in their infancy. So far, all researchers have done is measure the heights and weights of summer campers.Next month, USC researchers will visit again to study the centers' food budgets, the snacks and meals they offer, and the exercise they provide. Within months, they will begin training center staff on how to implement healthier, low-cost changes in diet and exercise."Dealing with today's children, exercising and eating right -- that's a big plus," said Michele Edwards, director of the Hood Street center. Another plus, Edwards said, is that researchers are "actually educating the staff …, helping them to change how they exercise and eat as well."The program isn't entirely new, although the source of financing is: the National Institutes of Health. Over the past three years, Beets has worked with other centers throughout the Midlands to implement standards that stress the consumption of more fruits and vegetables and promote more vigorous exercise, including the YMCA and Boys and Girls Clubs."This doesn't take a lot of (monetary) investment," he said -- just careful planning and commitment.During the next four years, USC researchers will examine the budgets and study their vendors to see whether they spend appropriate amounts on healthy foods: "Here's the dollars that you've invested. Is it worth the money for the bang you get out of it?"They will track the progress of children in the program: Are they becoming more active? Are they eating better?And they will teach staff the "Let Us Play" standards developed by the national organization Policy to Practice in Youth Programs to emphasize changes that allow every child to participate in activities."We ask staff to get engaged because we know that's one surefire way to get kids involved" with changing their lifestyles, said Beets, who has high hopes for Fort Jackson's two centers."When you walk into a program where kids are well behaved and the staff is 'on it,'" it's easy to feel optimistic, Beets said -- the Imboden and Hood Street centers are well run, and the staff is engaged.HEALTHY STANDARDS Researchers from the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina will work with the Imboden and Hood Street after-school centers to implement revised standards that insure healthy eating and vigorous exercise. These are some of the existing standards the program will use as guidelines: • Serve fruit or vegetables daily. • Serve water as the primary beverage. • Eliminate sugar-based drinks and food. • Eliminate artificially flavored foods. • Encourage staff to be role models of healthy eating. • Educate children about healthy eating. • Make sure every child has 30 minutes of physical activity daily (other than walking). • Create an environment friendly to physical activity. • Encourage staff to be role models for healthy activity. Source: National Afterschool AssociationLET US PLAY Researchers also will use the 'Let Us Play' standards developed by the national organization Policy to Practice in Youth Programs to inform their work at Fort Jackson: L: Revise play so children don't have to stand in LINES in order to participate in a game. E: Reduce the ways children can be ELIMINATED from a game and relegated to standing on the sidelines, watching. T: Reduce TEAM size so all children get a chance to play. U: Reduce the number of UNINVOLVED staff. Set a good example. S: Make sure you have the right kind of SPACE to encourage play. PLAY!