FEBRUARY 24, 1997

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Rats teach about nutrition

study rats

Bear Creek 6th grader Esther Beaumier shows off Timber and Munchie, nutritional study rats in her class.
Photo by Deborah Stone/Northwest News.

nutritional study by Deborah Stone
Lateesha, Yolanda, Timber, and Munchie are resident guests in Robin Phillips' and Kristina Saunders' sixth grade classes at Bear Creek Elementary. The four are white rats who are a part of a nutritional study program sponsored by the Washington State Dairy Council.
   This is the fifth year that Bear Creek has been involved with the program, and according to Phillips, it's been very effective in teaching children about good eating habits and health. The rats stay with the classes for five weeks, and each class is responsible for the care and feeding of two of the rats.
   One of the rodent pair represents the control group and is fed 1% milk along with food from the various other food groups. The other rat is a part of the treatment group and receives sugar water instead of the milk, together with foods from the other food groups. After three weeks, the rats switch their diets to demonstrate that it's never too late to change eating habits for the better.
   The students weigh the rats and measure their tails, observing and comparing differences in growth, appearance, and behavior between the two groups. They feed them, change and clean their cages, and provide them with opportunities to exercise outside their cages.
   "They take full responsibility for the rats while they are here," Phillips said. "And the children grow very attached to them." At the end of five weeks, the rats are adopted and taken home by members of the class.
   Rats are used in the experiment because their digestive systems mimics those of humans, and the majority of their growth occurs between four and eight weeks, making the results easier to see.
   The students in both classes have set forth a hypothesis about what they predict will happen to the rats in five weeks. They believe that the rats receiving the milk will grow more and be healthier than the ones who get the sugar water. Already, after one week, the control rats are larger than the treatment rats.
   "We like to do this study as part of our nutrition unit," Phillips said, "where the kids analyze food choices, do comparison shopping at grocery stores, and make food budgets. The rats are a wonderful hands-on method to illustrate just how necessary a balanced diet is."