Missouri Foundation for Health’s childhood obesity initiative Healthy Schools Healthy Communities (HSHC) has released its year-two evaluation report as their work throughout the region continues. The report, which covers progress from August 1, 2014, through July 31, 2015, gives a great view of the scope of the effort, along with the initiative’s early impact.
Overall, 126 practice, policy, and environmental changes were implemented, leading to positive signs, such as movement toward a healthier weight status for first-year school districts and a significant decrease in school misconduct episodes. In fall of 2015, a third cohort of partner schools joined HSHC. This brings the total to 33 school districts and 13 community collaboratives, reaching nearly 30,000 students, all working to make it easier for kids to eat healthy and be more active.
Missouri consistently ranks as one of the heaviest states in the country, with 30 percent of adults obese and 28 percent of children either overweight or obese. In 2013 HSHC was founded to address childhood obesity through prevention efforts in targeted or high-need areas. HSHC brings together schools, community organizations, businesses, parents, and residents to identify and implement changes that increase access to healthy food and physical activity where kids live, learn, and play.
”It’s still relatively early in the initiative, but it’s very gratifying to see the progress that has already taken place,” said Deidre Griffith, the director of HSHC at the Foundation. “Seeing the dollars leveraged and the sheer number of partners, volunteers, and community members that have come together for this important work makes me very hopeful for the future of this initiative.”
The practice, policy, and environmental changes featured in the report include: a land agreement signed with a church in Barry and Lawrence County to create a community garden; “Double Up Food Bucks” at the Salem Farmers Market, which allows the use of EBT cards and double fruits and veggies for the same price; an updated wellness policy for Pemiscot County schools; an agreement to allow community use of playground equipment after school hours in Miller County; events such as the Let’s Move dance flash mob and Double Dutch Tournament in St. Louis Public Schools; and so much more.
Other highlights from the report include a more than 20 percent decline in school misconduct episodes (K-8) in the 2013-14 school year for cohort 1 (as compared to the previous year). This cohort also reported a nearly 10 percent increase in the number of students reporting being active for at least 60 minutes a day in spring 2015 (compared to fall 2013). One school district in Barry and Lawrence County saw all of its third and fourth graders meeting or exceeding their overall fitness level goals. Additionally, nearly $800,000 was raised by grantees beyond HSHC grant funding, with the help of volunteers who donated their time and organizations that provided additional funds.
Griffith acknowledged that there is still much more to be done to meet the goal of a 5 percent reduction in the number of children who are overweight or obese in the region. “Making a dent in the obesity number is definitely a challenge, but we’ve rallied such a driven and diverse group of partners from all around our service region, and with all of our work combined I am confident that we can reach our goal.”
“If we can encourage children to eat healthier and exercise more,” explained Griffith, “we’re not just improving their health right now, we’re setting them on a path toward healthy living for the rest of their lives, and that can make all the difference for so many other illnesses, like cancer and diabetes.”
One HSHC grantee featured in the report put the situation in more concise terms, “I think the mindset is changing; people are paying more attention to being physically active and eating right and just living a healthy lifestyle in general, and they want that for their kids.”