My Chicago Co-op
My co-op position is a research assistant at the Northshore University Health System. Northshore is a rather large company with many hospitals dedicated to creating a healthier world. Its main goals are to provide the absolute best care to their patients and make the world healthier, which is accomplished through projects. I work with Dr. Sanborn, a cardiologist here at the hospital. Besides caring for patients, he works on many different studies and research projects. There are 3 projects he is currently working on: Fitnessgram, Sugar Show, and Tobacco 21 Initiative. I assist in each one, helping in different ways. I will explain how these studies work, their goals, and how I assist them.
Fitnessgram is a project that has just recently made a difference in the Evanston, IL community. Fitnessgram is a program schools use to evaluate students, placing them in different fitness categories in order to make them healthier. The goal of the program is to lower BMI and increase health through physical activity. It uses BMI and some physical fitness activities (sit ups, pushups, etc.) to place these students in what is called a “Healthy Fitness Zone”. Based on what zone a child falls into determines if they are physically fit. This study has provided Evanston with unprecedented results! It has dropped the obesity rate in Evanston middle school children by nearly 10%. The obesity rate for children in Evanston has fallen 6% below the national obesity rate (which is 20%). District 65 (Evanston middle schools) teamed up with Dr. Sanborn in Fall 2013 to observe the results when Fitnessgram was implemented. This is the study I have worked on the most. I currently analyze the data and upload it to a special database Northshore uses to store the data. I recently made a PowerPoint highlighting the data to be presented to Evanston’s Wellness Committee as well as District 65’s school board. With more support for the great results we can continue to make a change for the better in Evanston’s schools, and greatly reduce the obesity rate. In the future, we hope to expand the program to other small towns in Illinois.
Childhood obesity is an epidemic that affects so many in this country. Besides Fitnessgram, a pilot study called Sugar Show is being integrated into the Evanston elementary schools. Sugar Show is a program whose goal is to reduce the amount of sugar sweetened beverages, aka SSBs consumed by children. SSBs account for the most sugar and calories consumed through any food group in children. SSBs can be any drink high in added sugars (sugars that do not provide the energy needed at that moment, and thus are stored.) SSB’s can be any soda, sports drinks, lemonade, sweet tea and even flavored milk. Sugar Show implements education into Evanston’s elementary schools. They teach the students about the dangers of high SSB consumption, which includes heart disease, obesity, and even some forms of cancer. We survey students and see how many SSBs they drink in an average day. We have already a small drop among the older students, meaning they understand the harms and have dropped their consumption of these beverages. We are trying to design a newer survey and expand the program into more Evanston elementary schools. That’s where I come in. I am helping create a new survey and working with many people to see how we can make the program more efficient and expand it. Through these meetings I have learned countless things about how these programs begin and how they are continuously kept monitored. There is hope to someday mix the Fitnessgram and Sugar Show programs into Evanston’s schools together, creating a much healthier community and drastically lowering Evanston’s obesity rate.
Evanston recently passed a new ordinance forbidding people under the age of 21 from buying tobacco products. Northshore backs this ordinance completely. Dr. Sanborn and a group at PEER services, a local group against substance abuse, have been working on a small project. Surveys have been given to high school age students since 2001, monitoring the smoking rates among these students. The ordinance has just been implemented recently, and is looking to drop these smoking rates among high school students. The surveys are the main way of monitoring the rates, and a huge drop in high schools smokers is expected to be seen. Though, these surveys are expensive to administer to all the students in Evanston. To help reduce the costs, Dr. Sanborn, a few other people, and I have been working on a grant application to receive funding from the American Heart Association. I have engaged in many meetings with PEER Services employees helping draft the application and apply for the grant. We turned it in recently, and are hoping to receive about $5,000 to continue researching how the new Tobacco 21 ordinance fares in Evanston as well as it has fared in many Northeastern communities.
Overall, this co-op has been very interesting. I enjoy working on these research projects and seeing the results that coincide with a healthier world. This job dealing with public health directly aligns with my Bio-medical Science major, and I feel like it has helped me in connecting topics I have learned in my science classes. I want to be a doctor someday, and this job has helped me understand what doctors do outside of caring for patients. I really think this experience has helped me take a bigger interest in public health, and will benefit me in both my future endeavors, classes, and even more co-ops.