School program building healthy communities

By: Maria Allard, | Warren Weekly | Published January 11, 2017

WARREN/TROY — Students who attend a number of local schools are learning about the importance of physical activity and how to eat healthier through the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Building Healthy Communities program.

Incorporated in 2009, the program is in about 150 Michigan schools and provides education on health and wellness for students in grades K-12. The program is designed to help kids build lifelong, healthy habits. It also addresses childhood obesity.

The Academy of Warren, Lincoln Elementary, Wolfe Middle School, Immaculate Conception Catholic School and Macomb Montessori Academy — all located in Warren and Center Line — and Susick Elementary, a Warren Consolidated Schools district school located in Troy, are among the local schools participating.

There are three programs to choose from: “Engaging Elementary Schools through Partnership,” “Engaging Middle Schools through Project Healthy Schools” and “Step Up for School Wellness” for kindergarten through 12th-grade. Students, teachers and administrators are provided with tools, resources and training to improve student health while creating a healthier school environment.

Building Healthy Communities is a public/private partnership supported by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the Michigan Department of Education, the Michigan Fitness Foundation, Michigan State University Extension, Michigan Team Nutrition, the United Dairy Industry of Michigan, the University of Michigan, the Wayne State University Center for Health and Community Impact and Action for Healthy Kids.

“Building Healthy Communities has been an enormous success in Michigan, helping hundreds of thousands of students stay active and make better food choices,” Lynda Rossi, executive vice president of Strategy, Government and Public Affairs at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, said in a prepared statement. “As schools implement healthier initiatives, we’re seeing the benefits extend beyond the classroom as well. On average, students that take part in this program report that they are more active, burn more calories and eat more fruits and vegetables than their peers. This is extremely valuable, as we know healthy habits established early in life are likely to be carried into adulthood.”

According to program organizers, students participating in the program, on average, eat 40 percent more fruits and vegetables than the national average; add 35 additional minutes per week of moderate and vigorous physical activity; have a 26 percent increase in school sports participation and have shown a 74 percent increase in their attention spans.

“Over time, we’ve added quite a few partners to the program,” said Program Manager Shannon Carney Oleksyk. “The program has a strong focus on the school culture overall. It becomes part of the way the school functions.”

Some schools now have equipment, such as soccer balls and basketballs, they might not have had prior to becoming involved in the program. Some teachers and students are bringing back simple playground games like four square to play during recess.

Oleksyk said students and staff take advantage of different activities. They include healthy kids clubs that meet after school, student leadership teams that focus on nutrition and ideas to stay physically active and spend less time in front of a video screen or television. Another popular activity for older students, according to Oleksyk, is having them volunteer as taste testers for possible foods to serve in the cafeteria.

For more information on Building Healthy Communities or to apply, visit bcbsm.com.