Community-based nonprofit organization in Massachusetts receives
UnitedHealth HEROES grant 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 Massachusetts alone, an estimated 30 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 Massachusetts 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 Massachusetts, UnitedHealthcare this month provided a grant totaling $955 to a community-based nonprofit organization. This UnitedHealth HEROES grant was awarded to a youth-led program that includes 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.
The grant recipients, Boys & Girls Club of Woburn, MA, received a $955 grant to support The Intrepid Keystone Club, a teen leadership and community service group. The group will host weekly challenges at the Boys & Girls Club, such as running laps, walking, or jumping rope. Members of the group will chart their progress throughout the weeks, and all who participate will earn prizes and incentives. The ultimate goal is to educate young people in the city of Woburn about the importance of active, healthy living, while giving them tangible and accessible steps to help them be active in their daily lives.
During the program, Keystone members will present facts and tips on how to stay healthy and active. The program will culminate with a health fair that will take place during Global Youth Service Day, when Boys & Girls Club members will showcase what they did over the weeks and learn more tips. They will also host a relay race -- a compilation of all the challenges in which members participated over the course of the program.
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.