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Helping children to health

Ruth Bindler has learned that small grants can be stepping stones on the path to a million-dollar grant.

Bindler, professor of nursing, in collaboration with Kenn Daratha, assistant professor of informatics at WSU Spokane, recently was awarded $1.33 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for an obesity prevention research project that will begin in six Spokane middle schools in the fall. The experience gained through two earlier educational grants made the huge project possible, she explained.

“Through those two small grants, we learned about strategies that are effective with youth, and we built collaborations with schools and communities. It was that experience that made the USDA grant possible,” Bindler said.

Both of those smaller grants were educational research projects involving youth at Havermale, an alternative high school in Spokane, and were directed by Bindler and Margaret Bruya, also a professor of nursing. 

The first project, during the 2005-2006 school year, focused on weekly nutritional information and physical activity programs for the students. Funded by Pathology Associates Medical Laboratory in Spokane and a WSU Initiation of Collaboration grant, the project had positive results, including improvements in the students’ level of physical activity.

The second project, which began in September and will finish in June, was funded by the Washington Dairy Council to find ways to convince American teens to consume the recommended level of calcium. The students sampled a variety of calcium-containing products and rated their favorites, with the goal of identifying calcium-rich options for school vending machines. The project included education about the role of calcium in promoting bone density.

Those projects not only led to the million-dollar grant, but also positively influenced both the nursing students involved and the community, Bindler said.

“Our students make presentations to the classes and are involved with these teens,” she explained. “These projects are so wonderful for our students – great learning experiences in collecting data and analyzing it and in delivering health messages to youth.”

“We also believe these projects benefit the community,” Bindler said. “The teachers say our contact helps the students and improves their ability to make healthy choices. We agree. We think it is working. For example, after our project on physical activity last year, several students ran Bloomsday (an annual race in Spokane) for the first time ever.”

“I am really concerned about overweight children and passionate about making our youth as healthy as we can,” she said. “These small grant projects help us learn what strategies are effective.”

This article is part of an occasional series on small grants and their impact at WSU. If you know of a newsworthy or creative program grant, please contact WSU Today writer Bill London at

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