In July 2013, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Michigan Fitness Foundation, United Dairy Industry of Michigan, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University announced an unprecedented partnership to promote healthy lifestyles to schoolchildren and encourage healthy behaviors from an early age. The expanded Building Healthy Communities partnership joined together five organizations that have a long history of childhood obesity prevention programs, with components ranging from healthy eating and physical activity to creating a healthy, supportive school environment.

Building Healthy Communities began as a partnership between Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Wayne State University’s Center for School Health and the Michigan Fitness Foundation with a focus on elementary schools. The expanded collaboration includes the University of Michigan’s Project Healthy Schools program with a focus on middle schools, and the United Dairy Industry of Michigan, which will provide an expansion to the elementary schools element of the program to include breakfast in the classroom and its Fuel Up to Play 60 student leadership program. With the expansion of the program, it is estimated to reach nearly 50,000 school children by the end of the next school year.

“The scope of this partnership is the first of its kind in Michigan designed specifically to help students in elementary and middle school learn healthy behaviors and practice those lessons in an environment that makes the healthy choice the easy choice,” said Shannon Carney Oleksyk, a registered dietitian and healthy living advisor for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan’s Social Mission. “Evidence shows that when children are healthier, they are more likely to succeed in the classroom and beyond. By encouraging kids to make healthy choices at a young age, the Building Healthy Communities program is laying the foundation for a healthier, stronger Michigan future. Building Healthy Communities is a comprehensive, school-wide program created to fight childhood obesity. Since the inception of the program in 2009, over 35,000 students in 83 schools have been reached. Twenty-eight school buildings, reaching an additional 12,500 students, will be implementing the Building Healthy Communities program for the 2013–2014 school year. With its public, private and nonprofit partners, the Building Healthy Communities program continues to show a positive impact on students making healthy choices at a time when one in three children in the nation is obese or overweight and when the rate of childhood obesity has tripled in just 30 years.

“The University of Michigan is excited to work with so many partners across the state to create healthy school environments,” said Kim Eagle, M.D., Albion Walter Hewlett Professor of Internal Medicine and director, Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center, University of Michigan Health System. “The long-term benefits of this program cannot be understated in terms of its potential to improve the overall health of our citizens today and into the future, reduce health care costs that will benefit all of us, and help generations of Michiganders live healthier, more successful lives.”

“Wayne State University has been on the frontline of the effort to fight childhood obesity and encourage students and school staff to make healthy choices a priority in their classrooms, and Building Healthy Communities is critical to growing our footprint across the state,” said Nate McCaughtry, Ph.D., director for the Center for School Health at Wayne State University. “What we see is students, teachers and school staff excited about making healthy choices, eating well, exercising and staying fit. Our program will help maintain the momentum we have built together and encourage people to make health decisions that could last their lifetimes.”

To learn more about the Building Healthy Communities program visit here.