Transforming Health Care Through Evidence and Collaboration
Transforming Health Care Through Evidence and Collaboration

Preventing Childhood Obesity in Michigan's Classrooms

Obesity rates have more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. 1,2 In Michigan, 32.6 percent of children ages 0 to 17 are overweight or obese, compared to a national average of 31.3 percent. 3 In addition to the short- and long-term health consequences, overweight or obese children are also more likely to have lower academic achievements and score poorly in math than their non-overweight peers. 4 To address the childhood obesity epidemic in Michigan, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) launched Building Healthy Communities (BHC), a school-based prevention program to help children adopt healthy habits at a young age. BHC targets children where they spend a large percentage of their time, in schools, and aligns with “The Michigan Health & Wellness 4 x 4 Plan.” 5

BHC focuses on two key healthy behaviors outlined in the health and wellness program—maintaining a healthy diet and engaging in regular exercise. By providing access to healthy food, health education, physical education and physical activity programs, BHC helps children lead and maintain healthy and active lives.

Building Healthy Communities

BHC is a comprehensive, school-wide network of physical activity and healthy eating curricula and programs. BCBSM has invested more than $5.6 million in BHC since 2009, and more than 390 schools and 180,000 students have participated in the program. 6 While the program initially began in 17 elementary schools, BHC now includes programs for elementary, middle and high school students across the state. This expansion was possible through collaborations with key health and wellness leaders, including the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), Michigan Department of Education, Michigan Fitness Foundation, Michigan State University Extension, Michigan Team Nutrition, United Dairy Industry of Michigan, University of Michigan, Wayne State University’s Center for School Health and Action for Healthy Kids. Partnering organizations have pooled funding, resources and expertise to expand the program. Participating schools are selected based on a demonstrated commitment and administrative support to implement the program and sustain it in future school years.

Engaging Elementary Schools Through Partnership 7

BCBSM, MDHHS, the Center for School Health at Wayne State University, Michigan Fitness Foundation and the United Dairy Industry of Michigan have joined together to offer the “Building Healthy Communities: Engaging elementary schools through partnership” program. To date, the elementary school program has reached 188 schools and more than 75,000 students. Participating schools enact six core components during their healthy school transformation:

  1. School principals, support teachers, staff and students are fully engaged.
  2. Classroom teachers integrate brief nutrition lessons aligned with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (UDSA) Dietary Guidelines for Americans, conduct short physical activity breaks and share resources with parents.
  3. Physical educators implement the Exemplary Physical Education Curriculum, developed by the Michigan Fitness Foundation.
  4. Schools promote active recess by providing physical activity equipment and play guidance.
  5. Schools use student leadership to implement “Fuel Up to Play 60,” with additional support from the United Dairy Industry of Michigan. “Fuel Up to Play 60” is the nation’s largest in-school nutrition and physical activity program, launched by the National Dairy Council and the National Football League, in collaboration with the USDA, to help encourage today’s youth to lead healthier lives. 8
  6. Schools create healthy kids clubs by initiating a new weekly after-school program or enhancing the activity offerings in existing programs.

Each school works with a hands-on coordinator provided by BHC to establish its program and ensure its success and sustainability. They also receive all program materials and training necessary for full implementation as well as ongoing support during the transition to a healthy school environment. Caryl Dazer, a physical education teacher at Cleveland Elementary School in Livonia, has seen a difference in the children’s faces: “they seem to be more engaged, more excited to come to physical education. There’s a ball for every student—no one’s waiting around anymore to get active.” Dazer hopes students take home what they learn at school about food and fitness and encourage their families to be healthy as well.

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