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ChildObesity180 receives grant from Harvard Pilgrim

Published: Friday, November 16, 2012

Updated: Friday, November 16, 2012 08:11


Sofia Adams for the Tufts Daily

The Friedman School’s ChildObesity180 program was awarded a $1.5 million grant from the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation and is moving forward with its battle against childhood obesity.

The Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy’s ChildObesity180 organization recently received a $1.5 million grant from the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation to support its Healthy Kids Out of School program.

ChildObesity180, publicly launched last spring after the Friedman School earned a $6.9 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, works to facilitate research about childhood obesity prevention. Healthy Kids Out of School partners with after-school programs, such as the National 4-H Council and YMCA, to encourage children to participate in physical activity, drink water and eat fruits and vegetables. 

“We’re hoping over the next couple years we actually reach close to half a million children with this initiative,” Miriam Nelson, professor at the Friedman School and co-director of ChildObesity180, said. “[It is] working with the leadership in these organizations as well as implementing a grassroots effort to really target children themselves.”

Healthy Kids Out of School hopes to collaborate with businesses, like local grocery stores, that can provide resources for the participating after-school programs, according to Molly Newman, senior project manager for the initiative. 

“The cost of some of these resources and the access to them were some of the problems we heard,” she said. “We’re so burdened with how much we already have to take care of in our programs, we need some resources to help make it happen.”

This spring, Healthy Kids Out of School will provide an online resource for after-school programs called the Healthy Kids Hub, which will feature educational materials, such as webinars, and ideas for physical activities, according to Newman. 

The program will also use the grant money to evaluate the work and efficacy of its branches in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. A team from the program is currently conducting focus groups in these states with local staff and volunteers from the nine affiliated after-school programs, Newman said. 

“[We’re] really getting feedback from the local staff and volunteers, asking what are the barriers they face every day and what makes it difficult to offer fruits and vegetables and water and to offer physical activity,” she said. 

Healthy Kids Out of School is one of six ChildObesity180 initiatives that began three years ago to unite leaders from different academic fields in order to address childhood obesity, according to Nelson. 

The initiative’s emphasis on after-school, noncustodial organizations has given Harvard Pilgrim an opportunity to work with a variety of staff and volunteers, according to Karen Voci, executive director of Harvard Pilgrim.

“The idea is really to be sure that at every point in their day, healthier choices are easier choices,” she said. “The idea is really to be reinforcing these messages and reinforcing the environmental change.”

Voci explained that Healthy Kids Out of School’s tactics align with the shift in how the obesity epidemic has been approached.

“[Childhood obesity] used to be seen as an individual child’s problem,” she said. “The focus now is really on changing the environment in which kids live, work and play.” 

The grant is part of Harvard Pilgrim’s “Growing Up Healthy” initiative. The call for project proposals went out in fall 2011, and grants were awarded this April, according to Voci.

“We had worked with [the Friedman School] before, so we had a lot of up-close experience with the quality of their work,” she said.

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