Communities Preventing Childhood Obesity

“Safe parks, full service grocery stores, farmer’s markets, and safe walkable streets are all protective factors that contribute to the health of a community and have a positive impact on the health of its residents.” – anonymous

In 2011, Andrea Newby, Iron County Family Living Educator and Joy Schelble, Wisconsin Nutrition Coordinator analyzed local health statistics and realized that Iron County ranked low on many levels. According to the 2011 Wisconsin County Health Rankings, Iron County has some of the highest health risk factors. Health risk factors include behaviors such as incidents of smoking, lack of physical activity, alcohol consumption, lack of access to quality health care, low educational attainment and lack of access to healthy foods. In order to address this issue, Newby and Schelble applied for a research grant project titled “Mobilizing Rural Communities to Assess and Improve the Ecological Environment to Prevent Childhood Obesity” from the Agriculture and Food Resource Institute. This research project would provide local money to begin to address the health disparities in Iron County from an environmental approach. An environmental approach involves making changes to the built environment in order for residents to make a healthy choice. Basically we want to create communities in which the healthy choice is the easy choice.

Currently the Communities Preventing Childhood Obesity (CPCO) coalition is focused on implementing action steps to address access to healthy food and physical activity.  Specifically the action steps include piloting a youth-led Garden To Market farmer’s market, assisting with the creation of an ice skating rink in the city of Montreal and assisting with a plan for a regional biking/walking trail.

We kicked off the youth Garden To Market program in the summer of 2013 with 5 youth from the Hurley School. This program provided an opportunity for youth to learn and operate a garden as well as a farmer’s market operation. The produce from the school garden was sold at the local farmers market by the students, was provided in the Hurley school lunch program, and donated to the local food pantry. This program provided affordable, healthy, fresh fruits and vegetables to families in the community and to the students at the Hurley school. Young people engaged in leadership and took action to reduce childhood obesity and hunger in Iron County.

As part of the CPCO action steps Iron County 4H is working with youth to develop a walking/biking trailhead as part of a regional trail system to expand from Hurley, WI to Wakefield, MI in the Upper Peninsula. – See this previous Team FE blog post to learn more: A Winter’s Remembering of The Hurley Trestle Trailhead Design Project

In addition to the Garden To Market program the CPCO coalition assisted the Iron County Health Department in allocating money to build an ice skating rink in the city of Montreal. This need for safe outdoor spaces to be physically active in winter was identified by parents who participated in the “Active Where Parent Survey”. The CPCO coalition worked with partnering agencies and the city to develop policies and procedures to sustain the outdoor skating rink which provides families the opportunity to be physically active in the winter months.

The CPCO Coalition continually meets on a monthly basis. Due to the strong membership and participation, the CPCO coalition is recognized by other agencies and organizations as a resource, information center and driver for creating environments that support healthy lifestyles and reduce childhood obesity.

Evidence of the success of the CPCO coalition is displayed through the actions taken by partnering organizations, agencies and the school. For example the Iron County health department has allocated funds to support CPCO initiatives and integrated CPCO action plans into the Iron County Community Health Improvement Plan, and the Hurley School Green and Healthy Schools committee has made plans to expand the school garden as part of their wellness program in an effort to reduce childhood obesity. Additionally the Hurley School has integrated the school garden into the wellness policy and Iron County Human Services has focused their child and youth mentoring programming around the community and school garden.

Andrea Newby, Family Living Educator

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