PORTLAND - An innovative nutrition education and food safety program developed by faculty members in the Oregon State University Extension Service is adding a new wrinkle to a traditional summer pastime for many Oregon youths.

Summer camp.

Kids who attend a National Collegiate Athletic Association sports summer camp at Portland State University this year will learn more than how to sink the perfect dunk shot or fine-tune their butterfly kick: They will learn about the strong link between good nutrition and top sports performance.

For 30 years, the NCAA's Youth Sports Program has offered young people ages nine to 15 a sports day camp program that combines coaching in sports with coaching in vital life skills. Last year, more than 80,000 young people nationwide attended the summer camp, held on 185 campuses in 46 states.

This summer, more than 200 young people enrolled in the five-week camp at Portland State University. They will spend one hour each week learning how to fuel their bodies for peak performance in both sports and everyday activities.

These lessons will come from a new curriculum called Pyramid Power, Food Choices for Winners. Its developers, OSU Extension faculty Renee Hylton and Marjorie Braker, say Pyramid Power uses simple games to teach basic nutrition and food safety, making it ideal for youth camps.

The idea sprang from a single nutrition lesson three years ago on the importance of drinking enough water.

Students participating in a relay race learned how water intake is key to the smooth functioning of the body's systems. The event was a big hit, so Hylton and Braker expanded the concept of using contests and games to teach.

"Kids come to camp to have fun and learn something new," said Braker. "Why not teach personal hygiene through a hand washing contest?"

Braker and Hylton expanded the program to pair games with information that teaches five important lessons:


  • "Eat smart" teaches how to make healthy food choices.


  • "Get fit" explains the importance of having calcium for strong bones.


  • "Feel great" focuses on the benefits of eating high-fiber grains, vegetables and fruits instead of refined sugars.


  • "Drink fluids" highlights the importance of water to prevent dehydration.


  • "Have fun" encourages young people to put their healthy-food lessons into practice every day.

Each lesson stresses the importance of safe food handling by expanding on the basic: "Keep it clean, cook it well and cool it soon."

"Food-borne illness will take an athlete out of the game and a student out of the classroom," Braker said. "Education about food safety is the best offense in defending against such illness."

The nutrition program will not take a vacation once summer camp is over. In the fall, the course will be made available to others interested in a fun way to teach young people about nutrition and food safety.

For more information about the Pyramid Power: Choices for Winners program, call 503-725-2029.

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Marjorie Braker, 503-655-8631