Childhood Obesity Target of Michigan Initiative

Childhood obesity in Michigan faces a new foe: the FIT initiative. This new alliance calls for “healthy eating coaches” and a “culture of nutrition.” Its first battleground will be four Grand Rapids elementary schools.

obese childGrand Rapids Public Schools in Grand Rapids, Michigan has joined forces with Michigan State University and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan in a million-dollar health offensive against childhood obesity. Its strategy:  increase kids’ physical activity, improve their nutrition, and enlist public schoolteachers, faculties, and parents in the fight.

It’s called the FIT initiative, and the first battlefield will be a group of four elementary schools in Grand Rapids – schools with known obesity issues and surrounding neighborhoods.

The FIT team will link up with community organizations in the neighborhoods surrounding the schools to accomplish a three-part mission:
•    increase access to safe and affordable physical activities,
•    improve the affordability and availability of nutritious food, and
•    increase knowledge, attitudes and behaviors associated with healthy living.

MSU’s contingent will consist of personnel from several different fields, including the university’s Institute for Health Care Studies and the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition. The team will focus first on creating a “culture of nutrition” in the schools through a coordinated program of nutrition education and guidance.  “Healthy eating coaches” will share meals with the kids, and hold sample sessions to give the school kids a taste of healthy food.

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The MSU team will also integrate a 30-minute program of structured physical activity into each school day, including DVD-based exercise and dancing. The goal is to help students meet the federal guideline of 60 minutes of exercise each day.

Partners in the program include the YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids, Grand Valley State University Johnson Center Community Research Institute, Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation Department, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, and a wide spectrum of associations and private businesses.

The program’s organizers hope that the FIT initiative will lead to the creation of a sustainable and comprehensive population-based approach to addressing the root causes of childhood obesity. If FIT succeeds, it’s likely that similar programs will be established elsewhere to duplicate that success.

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