Healthy Community: increasing public awareness and engagement to decrease child obesity

2016 Year in Review – part three in a series of four

Jump IN’s mission is to promote policies and practices that create healthy environments where families and children have real opportunities to make healthy choices and engage in healthy behaviors. Research shows that if healthy nutrition and physical activity policies can be implemented in the places where children and families spend most of their time, their health will likely improve.

In Part One of this Year in Review series we described what we did in 2016 to increase the number of healthy choices that family members have in their workplaces, schools, child care settings, and personal homes. In Part Two we described the launch of our first community demonstration project in Greater Lawrence/Far Eastside, a nationally recognized effort to employ numerous strategies across multiple sectors to increase health in a concentrated geographic region.

In this post we look at our 2016 efforts to engage and educate the larger community for the benefit of central Indiana families.

Healthy Community

Beyond their schools, child care centers, workplaces, homes, and neighborhoods, children and families are also members of a larger community whose values, norms, and policies shape the broader environment in which these families live. For that reason, Jump IN works to influence that environment by encouraging educational conversations on healthy habits, urging the adoption of targeted public policies that promote healthy living, and fostering an overall culture of good health in the community.

Public Awareness and Education

We helped central Indiana define “healthy habits” by promoting a simple 5-2-1-0 message originally crafted by Let’s Go! in Maine. These healthy eating, physical activity, recreational screen time, and beverage consumption tips are deeply embedded in our weekly Healthy Kids Blog and posts on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn and Instagram.

5210 habits every day

We also shared the message through partnerships with the Social Health Association of Indiana and Ruth Lilly Health Education Center as highlighted in part 1 of this series.

Public Policy

While we know that top-down mandates are often ineffective in changing behavior, we also understand that targeted public policy initiatives can positively shape the environment and promote healthy behaviors.

We supported and will continue to support Healthy Food Financing legislation to increase the availability of fresh and nutritious food in geographic areas determined to be “food deserts.”

We celebrated the signing of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), federal legislation that identifies school health and physical education as part of students’ essential, “well-rounded” education. Placing nutrition and physical activity on the same level as science, art, civics, history, geography and other “core subjects,” this legislation makes funds available for schools to implement best practices in nutrition, activity, and wellness.

Clinician Training and Resources

We designed curriculum and hosted central Indiana’s first continuing medical education workshop on child obesity—accredited by the Indiana State Medical Association and Indiana Academy of Family Physicians. Physicians from all five major healthcare systems in central Indiana assisted us in planning and developing this workshop.

The ground-breaking workshop is being considered for the Innovation Award for Healthcare Provider Training co-sponsored by American College of Sports Medicine, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, and the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Dad and baby with the pediatrician

As part of the workshop, we connected more than 50 primary care clinicians to community resources that support children and families in reaching health and wellness goals. Exhibitors representing nine of these community resources met with clinicians, answered questions, and shared additional information about their services.

Data Collection and Analysis

Data are not readily available at a granular, local level to let us assess our effectiveness in affecting childhood overweight and obesity prevalence rates. Over the past few years, we have worked with public health officials and others to capture data that help us better understand the prevalence rates in central Indiana and, in turn, the impact of our work.

One such tool is FitnessGram. During the 2015-2016 school year, six school districts provided Jump IN with unique, de-identified height and weight data captured during spring 2016 FitnessGram assessments for more than  9,000 students ages 8-19. In this sample, the combined overweight/obesity prevalence rate was 44%, with twenty-five percent (25%) of this sample measured as obese, and an additional 19% measured as overweight.

Additionally, nearly 1,300 preschoolers were measured as part of our child care training classes. Overweight and obesity prevalence is generally lower among these very young children, with our sampling indicating 14% obese and 18% overweight, for a combined prevalence rate of 32%.

Girl being measured by her doctor

Jump IN is working with public health officials and researchers to access existing data. For example, height and weight data are collected when children visit their primary care doctors or pediatricians; until recently, however, there was no efficient way to access that collective data. Changes in how these data are captured in electronic medical records create new options to aggregate these data and allow for more robust evaluation. We are hopeful that by the end of this year, our ability to gather and analyze these data will be significantly enhanced. This will allow us to measure the impact of targeted interventions on childhood obesity in central Indiana. 

Plans for 2017

We are excited about the momentum that propels us into 2017. In the coming year, we will validate our strategies through implementation, practice, evaluation and refinement. We will identify remaining obstacles to those efforts and potential solutions to those obstacles. Equally important, we will determine how best to embed best practice strategies into existing or developed structures, systems, and environments to promote their sustainability.

You can follow our efforts in 2017 by subscribing to our Healthy Kids Blog. You’ll get weekly wellness tips, news, and resources to help make central Indiana a healthy place for children and families to live, learn, and play.