There has been a clarion call across the nation for parents and communities to rise up and deal with the alarming health and nutrition rates of not just our citizens but specifically our children.  Some researchers say it is about options and in that case the more affluent you are the better options and choices you may make.  I believe, for many, that is true.  And apparently, there are many businesses in the health-care field that agree.

One such company is Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.  A recent article in the Michigan Chronicle stated that BCBSM reported that they spend $3 billion annually today in obesity-related costs.  In our state, 29% of adults are considered obese and almost 1/3 of our kids are overweight.  Fat kids turn into what?  Fat adults!  Thankfully, BCBSM and others have or intend to introduce initiatives…some bold…some simple, that will work to curb rising obesity rates.

BCBSM introduced a program in 2009 called “Building Healthy Communities” that has helped more than 14,000 school children get moving and to eat healthy.  They have enacted school-based and community projects to promote healthy eating and exercise.  In 2011, under the umbrella of the aforementioned program, the concept has expanded to include accepting grant proposals from public and nonprofit private elementary schools in Michigan for programs that increase physical activity and improve nutrition among their student population.  Funding amounts are anticipated to range from $20,000 to $50,000 per school, depending on the number of programs selected, the size of the school and the number of children enrolled.  According to the same Michigan Chronicle article, the proposed program requires four elements: a healthy school assessment, physical activity and nutrition education, a walking club and 5k run or walk.

The apparent strategy is to reach kids at the point in their lives where they are in the process of developing life-long habits and values.  The program funds “quick, inexpensive and easy to implement classroom tools designed to get kids moving”.  It also funds efforts to help teach kids that fresh fruits and vegetables are their “friends” and identifies local resources to fund healthier food programs at each participating school, provide access to safe play areas and addresses other environmental barriers that impede program goals.  There are many studies that suggest that kids that eat well perform better in school.

Grant information and downloadable forms are available at bcbsm.com/buildhealth.  Interested schools needed to apply before Feb. 11th and full grant proposals must be submitted by midnight on Sunday, March 13th.  I would suggest that if you have school-age children or you know somebody that does, check for yourself or encourage them to see if your/their school has looked into the program.

But let’s face it…looking into the program is not enough.  Yes, it is wonderful that BCBSM and others are taking the initiative to address the problem.  It is great that many schools are engaged and using the tools that have been graciously afforded them.  But, you, the parent, are on the front line of this battle…this war on obesity.  It will not work if there continues to be the disconnect between what our kids learn at school and what they deal with at home.  Parents, too, have to break out of the cycle of easy “fast food” and  unhealthy meal solutions.  Yes, you have worked today and you are too tired to cook, but for many this is where the real battle is waged and lost.  Healthy food choices need to be a mandate.  The so-called advantages of the affluent can be mitigated through education and techniques like meal planning.  Get out and play with your children.  Plant a home garden or join a community garden effort as a family project.  The physical activity will do you all some good.  By reinforcing the positives that programs  like “Building Healthy Communities” and other efforts provide, you’ll live better, perhaps a little longer and our children’s future will be so much brighter.

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