Community-based nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island receive UnitedHealth HEROES grants to help fight childhood obesity
By Dr. Sandra B. Nichols,
Chief Medical Officer of the Northeast Region, UnitedHealthcare Clinical Services
Childhood obesity is on the rise, and we can’t afford to sit idle and simply watch our children’s waistlines grow. In Rhode Island alone, an estimated 30.1 percent of children between the ages of 10 and 17 are considered overweight or obese, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
UnitedHealthcare of Rhode Island is working to empower youth as problem-solvers in the fight against childhood obesity through the UnitedHealth HEROES program. This service-learning health literacy initiative was designed to encourage young people to implement walking, running or hiking programs aimed at helping fight childhood obesity. UnitedHealth HEROES grants were made available through a joint effort with YSA (Youth Service America), a national nonprofit.
In Rhode Island, UnitedHealthcare this month provided two grants totaling $1,500 to schools and community-based nonprofit organizations. These UnitedHealth HEROES grants were awarded to youth-led programs that include both an activity element, in which kids can count their steps, and a service component that increases awareness, provides direct service, enables advocacy on behalf of a cause, or features youth philanthropy around the issue of childhood obesity.
One of the grant recipients, The YMCA of Greater Providence, received a $1,000 grant to develop a program in which youths and families will collectively walk the distance from the Earth to the moon over the course of a 13-week period. Pedometers will be provided to children and their family members so they can track their daily steps. In addition, family walking routes will be suggested to encourage families to walk together in their community.
The Ocean Community YMCA in Westerly received $500 for its Leaders for Change program, which will implement a grade-school youth exercise program with a focus on monitored walking using a combination of indoor, gymnasium walk, run and exercise stations. Youth leaders will help coach children and families to appreciate healthy activities as an alternative to a sedentary lifestyle.
The short- and long-term impacts of obesity on our children’s health – and our nation – can be devastating. They range from greater risk of bone and joint problems to cardiovascular diseases such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Obese children are more likely to become overweight or obese adults, putting them at greater risk for other health problems such as Type 2 diabetes, stroke, cancer and osteoarthritis.
These are sobering thoughts, but the good news is obesity is preventable and reversible. As many parents and children seek to undo unhealthy weight gain following the recent holiday season, it is an ideal time to ask ourselves: “What can we do to reverse this alarming and potentially deadly trend?”
Foremost, the home can and should play an important role. From a child’s first breath, the top priority for every parent should be to make sure the child is properly fed, which means plenty of healthy food, but not more than a youngster needs.
Early health screenings for children can also detect many potential issues, including obesity. By measuring a child’s body mass index, a doctor or nurse can detect weight issues early and help get the child on the right track through exercise and nutrition counseling, further testing, or other programs aimed at preventing obesity.
Health and human-services providers – nutritionists, schools and health care companies – can further contribute to tackling childhood obesity by helping educate children and parents about healthy nutrition and proper exercise.
Another way to tackle childhood obesity is to educate and engage youth in the battle. In 2010, First Lady Michelle Obama launched a new initiative, “Let’s Move,” with an ambitious goal of solving the challenge of childhood obesity within a generation.
No single idea is going to fix the issue. But national and local efforts like these, when taken together, can improve the lives of our children. It’s time we all play a role in helping our children’s generation overcome obesity.