Program proven to improve student health in Michigan schools

Posted at 7:30 AM, Apr 12, 2017

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- In Michigan, more than 30 percent of kids are overweight or obese, ranking 18th in the country. An initiative called Building Healthy Communities from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan is designed to fight childhood obesity through wellness programs in schools.

Statistics show overweight students experience less academic success than non-overweight students.

Since the start of Building Healthy Communities eight years ago, students in the program have reported feeling more energized and an improved quality of life.

"It’s been fantastic," said Ashanti Bryant, principal at Grand Rapids Christian Middle School where the program was implemented last fall in a partnership with BCBSM. He and students alike agree the program is changing lives.

Students engaged in the program are able to take 700 more steps a day than average, get 35 minutes more vigorous exercise weekly, reduce their screen time by 19 minutes a day, and eat 40 percent more fruits and vegetables, according to Jason Loepp, director of retention at BCBSM.

"In PE, we get to learn more about our physical health and what we need to do to stay fit," said Alex Terry, a seventh grader at Grand Rapids Christian Middle school. "The food is more balanced than before."

"We have more kids active in recess because we were able to purchase different kinds of recess equipment," Bryant said. "We also offer now, as a part of our breakfast program, smoothies."

Some schools are purchasing recess equipment, some schools are establishing salad bars, others are getting smoothie machines.

Building Healthy Communities has involved more than 230,000 students in more than 500 Michigan schools. School are invited to apply but are not required to participate.

"The goal is to get children engaged in healthy habits," Loepp said. "It’s proven: If you get children engaged in early age, those habits will stick with them into the future, and it’s really all about the kids."

Principal Ashanti plans on building on this program in the coming years. He hopes to implement a school walking club and yoga programs, and purchase pedometers.