News

A statewide approach to childhood obesity through healthy school transformations

The number of overweight children has tripled since 1980, especially in Michigan’s low-income communities, and this has led to an increase in health risks such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and many more.
Wayne State University’s Center for School Health in the College of Education has joined forces with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and the Michigan Fitness Foundation to engage elementary schools statewide in addressing childhood obesity and improving the health of young people, their families and communities.
Building Healthy Communities is a comprehensive healthy school transformation program focused on embedding physical activity and healthy eating in every segment of the school environment. Through this program, Wayne State and its partners have partnered with elementary schools across Michigan to foster environments that encourage healthy choices, habits and lifestyles. The program helps students identify and choose healthy foods, encourages physical activities, and empowers students, teachers and administrators to change the school environment to facilitate healthy living, ultimately leading to improved academic performance.
“Twenty schools across Michigan have received support from our program in the past year, including materials, curriculum, equipment, professional development, on-site mentoring and technical support valued at more than $50,000 at each school,” said Nate McCaughtry, Ph.D., director of the Building Healthy Communities program and the Center for School Health.

Participating schools serve low-income communities in Berrien, Van Buren, Lake, Isabella, Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties.

According to McCaughtry, notable accomplishments in the project’s first several months of implementation include the initiation of after-school healthy living clubs at all 20 schools in the program, providing physical activity and healthy eating opportunities for more than 3,000 children. In addition, all 20 schools are hosting family engagement events to help connect the program to students’ home environments.
Despite the program’s infancy, McCaughtry and his research associates in the Center for School Health view it as a rich research incubator capable of revealing multiple mechanisms through which schools might play an important role in tackling several of the most pressing issues in urban communities, namely escalating rates of childhood obesity and chronic academic underachievement. “The goal of the program is to impact children and their families by instilling healthy habits, ultimately leading to longer and healthier lives,” said McCaughtry.
Applications for schools to participate in the program for the next year will be released on Jan. 15. Applications will be due Mar. 15. Winning schools will be notified by May 15, with the program beginning in Aug. 2013.