Grants aims to prevent childhood obesity in McLean County

Ben Chandler

CALHOUN, Ky. (May 24, 2018) — A Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky grant program has transformed efforts to address childhood obesity in McLean County, leading to several new programs, policies and facilities over the past 3½ years.

Foundation President and CEO Ben Chandler was in town Thursday reviewing the progress. He was joined in a tour by McLean County judge-executive Kelly Thurman and local grant coordinator Brooke Fogle.

The five-year, $260,000 grant to the Partnership for a Healthy McLean County, matched by nearly $134,000 in local funds, is part of the Foundation’s “Investing in Kentucky’s Future” (IKF) initiative, now in its final year. The IKF initiative is intended to reduce the risk that today’s school-aged children will develop debilitating chronic diseases as adults.

“McLean County is honored to be a recipient of this grant,” Thurman said. “It will provide financial resources for projects and improvements to emphasize the need for active lifestyles and bring greater awareness to our community of the health concerns and issues our friends and neighbors encounter daily.”

To date, the McLean partnership has used the grant to improve facilities to encourage more outdoor activity, add programs in local schools to increase classroom movement, expand nutrition programs, and support policy changes that ensure better nutrition and more physical activity in the daily lives of area students.

“The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky Investing in Kentucky’s Future grant has given McLean County the chance to grow immensely in the realm of health,” said Brook Fogle, a public health program specialist with the Green River District Health Department. “I have seen first-hand the joy and excitement on the students’ faces when they were given the new PE equipment. I have heard nothing but praise from the teachers that because of the new PE curriculum, they have been given the opportunity to teach kids that physical fitness can be fun. I see growth aside from the new built environments at the school and park, nutrition education and healthy food availability, and policy changes in the schools. The coalition has grown and strengthened their existing partnerships along with forming new partners. All in all, the grant has been beneficial in a multi-level way.”

“The next step is to take this the McLean and other IKF case studies on the road, sharing and expanding what has been learned here to benefit even more residents of McLean County and other Kentucky communities,” said Chandler. “The Foundation’s IKF initiative envisioned strengthening coalitions through demonstration projects in seven counties that thereafter could be replicated all over the commonwealth. Now that the McLean Partnership and six other community coalitions have some major successes under their belts, they’re prepared to help amplify their local impact far beyond each project’s original goals.”

To that end, the foundation said it would create a video and other materials that can be shared in other communities at the close of the initiative.

“We’ll also be making the connections between experienced coalition managers like Brooke Fogle with motivated leaders in other Kentucky communities who want to replicate the success of McLean County,” Chandler said.

Through its IKF initiative, the foundation has invested $3 million in seven Kentucky communities over a five-year period. The communities were selected based on the presence of strong cross-sectoral collaboration of civic leaders committed to improving local health. Each coalition chose the issue they wanted to address and provided a matching grant. Six of the grantees, including McLean County, chose childhood obesity prevention as their focus. The seventh coalition chose to address adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs. The foundation provided funding for a planning period, during which each coalition developed a business plan to address their chosen issue. In addition, the foundation provided training and technical assistance throughout the grant period.

Allen Montgomery

“Where I think the foundation has done well with this initiative is in working closely with local community coalitions, and listening to them about their needs and how they wanted to address them,” said Allen Montgomery, vice chair of the foundation’s board of directors and a McLean County native. “We also served as a resource to help the grantees ensure success, providing technical support and guidance in best practices. It’s my hope that this support has helped increase the sustainability of these coalitions and their capacity to continue doing good work in their communities.”

Here are the specific accomplishments to date under the grant in McLean County:

Built Environment
• Added a walking track at McLean County Middle School
• Installed a playground at Myer Creek Park
• Provided physical education equipment through the SPARK program

Nutrition
• Offered a Weekend Healthy Backpack program with healthier options for children from low-income families
• Provided nutrition education materials and activities in the backpacks to help kids and families learn more about healthier eating
• Hosted an Annual Nutrition Fair in partnership with Family Resource and Youth Services Centers on Family Read Night at each elementary school

Physical Activity
• Implemented the SPARK curriculum for physical activity and nutrition at all five county schools (three elementary, the middle school and the high school)
• Provided the Stride Track system to track the mileage of students in the McLean County Middle School Walking Club
• Worked with the High School Cougar Council to assist McLean County Schools teachers and staff to implement new policies and document progress

School Policy Changes
• Physical activity is no longer withheld or used for student punishment
• Physical education requirements are not waived for other activities or classes
• Food is no longer used as a reward for students
• All students have access to nutrition education
• Schools will conduct annual interest assessments with all staff and faculty related to student health
• Schools make the effort to provide physical activity opportunities and healthy eating programs
• Physical activity breaks are provided at any training or other meeting lasting longer than one hour

Chandler also said that the training provided by the foundation, in areas such as business plan development, evaluation and results-based accountability, sustainability planning, policy development, social marketing, school wellness policies and youth engagement, have strengthened the coalitions’ skills so they can address additional health issues successfully in the future.

The foundation will conduct a final evaluation of the IKF initiative beginning later this year, assessing not only the above accomplishments but also the extent to which the grants led to broader community engagement, a stronger coalition and the ability to leverage foundation funding for new and enhanced programs. That report, the above-mentioned video and other materials will be shared publicly.

“The foundation designed these grants to create lasting change,” Chandler said. “To that end, we emphasized that the plans had to include enacting policies that make the healthier choice the easier choice and, for the obesity-prevention grantees’ plans, building community spaces to spur and reinforce the habit of moving around more often. While we won’t necessarily see changes of obesity rates in just a few years, we do expect to see an increase in the exercise and dietary behaviors that research shows will lead to healthier weight down the line.”

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