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Can Youth Be Paid to Hit the Gym? Will They Keep Those Healthy Habits?

The Choctaw Nation is participating in a bold new diabetes prevention study called MOVE, which looks at motivating factors to get youth to the gym.

The Choctaw Nation is participating in a bold new diabetes prevention study called MOVE, launched by the Harold Hamm Diabetes Center at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Researchers conducting the study and staff members from Choctaw Nation Health Services Authority recently announced the study involving youths from Hugo and Talihina, Oklahoma. Participant screenings and fitness tests are conducted at the Diabetes Wellness Center in Talihina and at the Hugo Wellness Center.

The study asks a simple question: If we pay kids to go to the gym, will it lead to lasting lifestyle changes that promote good health?

The research is funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health, to focus on how to motivate young people to make lifestyle changes that can help them avoid health problems. Choctaw Nation leaders, recognizing the high incidence of juvenile diabetes among tribal members, asked to participate in the study.

“We’ve developed new protocols for treating diabetes in children, but nothing in terms of teaching those at risk to avoid the disease,” said Kenneth Copeland, M.D., co-principal investigator of the study. One in three children born today will develop diabetes at some point in their lifetime; that number increases for Native American children.

“Studies have demonstrated that incentive programs help adults meet their goals in weight loss or smoking cessation programs,” said Kevin Short, Ph.D., co-principal investigator and associate professor in pediatric diabetes and endocrinology at the OU College of Medicine. “But no one has ever considered whether financial incentives can improve health outcomes in younger populations.” Tamela Cannady, Director of Preventive Health for Choctaw Nation, said participation in the study has had an immediate impact for its young volunteers.

“This is making a difference in their self-esteem. They are holding their heads higher,” she said. “We have a job at Choctaw Nation to make people’s lives healthier.”

Mary Ayn Tullier, a research study coordinator from Choctaw Nation, said some of the participants “had no idea how to exercise” and many had never ridden a bicycle.

“We coach them and give them compliments to keep them going,” she said. Study participant Emily Greger, 14, of Moyers, has taken her participation in the study to the next level by joining her school’s basketball team.

“I really like it because there is so much at the gym you can do,” Greger said. “I like the people at the gym. They’re just like a big family. This makes you feel great because you are helping yourself.”

She got a friend to participate in the study because both have family members with Type 2 diabetes. Emily’s mother, Dawn Greger, who has Type 2 diabetes, is supportive of her daughter’s participation in the study because “it teaches her to be more active and take care of herself.”

Type 2 diabetes in teens and young adults has risen sharply in the past few years. Researchers hope the study will help them find effective ways to help prevent diabetes in young people.

“We hope this research will help us develop prevention programs that effectively address how to increase the physical activity levels of all youth as well as model incentive programs for future use in the Choctaw Nation and elsewhere,” said Short.