Helping schools in Detroit solidify the health outcomes achieved by Project Healthy Schools
Reducing childhood obesity and its long-term cardio-vascular health risks is the goal of Project Healthy Schools, a program developed by the University of Michigan. Piloted in Ann Arbor in 2004, the effort has grown to include partnerships with more than 50 Michigan middle schools and has touched more than 30,000 children to date. Grants from the Community Foundation and the DMC Foundation totaling $32,000 are helping five schools in Detroit solidify the health outcomes they’ve achieved and make the program a permanent part of their curriculum.
The participating schools are University Prep Science and Math Middle School, University Prep Academy Middle School, Henry Ford Academy, School for Creative Studies and the Detroit Leadership Academy.
Project Healthy Schools keeps its educational objectives simple and attainable by encouraging students to:
- Eat more fruits and vegetables
- Choose fewer sugary foods and beverages
- Eat less fast food and fatty food
- Spend less time in front of a screen, and
- Be active every day
The curriculum is delivered as part of the school day and has been rigorously tested to meet state and national education standards.
The impact on children’s behavior has been impressive. Project Healthy Schools has thoroughly measured the behavioral and physiological changes in students through the use of pre- and post-program questionnaires and biometric screenings. Participants have shown improvement in both healthy behaviors and cardiovascular risk factors, including reductions in their cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure. Seventy- one percent of the students surveyed indicated that they’re changing their behaviors in favorable ways. The Project Healthy Schools’ website features many testimonials from students, teachers and parents, and many more schools are eager to participate.
The comprehensive, school-wide support system is a big factor in the project’s success. Project Healthy Schools staff work with partner schools to create a “wellness team” that includes, optimally, a school administrator, a health or physical education teacher, a wellness champion, a school nurse, parents and students, and a food services manager.
The wellness team advocates and supports the health goals by promoting healthy cafeteria options, organizing nutrition and wellness events and supporting school-wide physical activities, such as 5K runs and field days. Schools are expected to manage things on their own after three years, but Project Healthy Schools will provide ongoing resources, training and yearly group events.
Project Healthy Schools manager Jean DuRussell- Weston says the curriculum puts into action some of the latest public health research and thinking. “Behavior change is complicated. For a long time, our emphasis was on individual effort — for example, with weight loss and smoking cessation,” she says. “That’s important, but we’ve grown in our understanding of the role our communities can play in supporting healthy choices. That’s where we’re seeing real change.”