Another Voice: Addressing childhood obesity takes education and engagement | Opinion

Last month, Dr. Matthew Swatski, a pediatrician from Oishei Children’s Hospital, wrote an Another Voice column about childhood obesity crisis in our community and across the country (Childhood obesity is a tragedy that can be averted, May 3, 2022). As Swatski so aptly pointed out, addressing this health crisis in our kids starts with education. We could not agree more. That’s why the Independent Health Foundation has partnered with Buffalo Public Schools and other school districts throughout Western New York to bring the Fitness for Kids Challenge directly into our region’s schools.

This program challenges every child to get daily exercise, proper rest and make good nutrition choices with the goal of healthier students, stronger bodies, focused minds and greater performance. During this academic school year, more than 9,000 elementary schoolchildren, from over 500 classrooms in 34 schools, participated in the Fitness for Kids Challenge.

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The Fitness for Kids Challenge is built on the 9-5-2-1-0 + YOU formula that encourages kids to live healthier lifestyles by simply following a plan of nine hours of sleep per day, five or more servings of fruits and vegetables, a limit of two hours of “screen time” (television, phone, tablet or computer), at least one hour of exercise or physical activity a day and zero sugary drinks. The “YOU” component focuses on students’ mental health and encompassing good mental health practices, such as goal setting, resiliency, kindness, emotional regulation, self-reflection and relationship building.

In addition to the Fitness for Kids Challenge, the Independent Health Foundation brings many other healthy programs for children and adults directly into our community, focusing on at-risk and underserved neighborhoods. For example:

Good for the Neighborhood, a free, community-based wellness program, brings valuable health-related training and tools to areas where access to health care is limited. Individuals and families are encouraged to manage and improve their health by attending quarterly health fair style events and workshops. They also have the opportunity to get a free health screening and take home fresh fruits and vegetables at each event.

The Soccer for Success program is a free, after-school youth development program that is proven to help kids establish healthy habits and develop critical life skills. Currently, the Soccer for Success program is offered at eight locations, including Buffalo Public Schools, City of Buffalo Parks and City of Lackawanna Parks.

These programs, along with our annual Kids Run in Delaware Park, which was held earlier this month and attracted nearly 5,000 kids, are just a few ways the Independent Health Foundation is helping children and motivating families throughout our community to get out and be active and adopt healthy lifestyles.

Fighting childhood obesity is not an easy task. As the Independent Health Foundation celebrates its 30th anniversary, we pledge to continue to offer these programs for many more years to come.

Carrie Meyer is executive director of the Independent Health Foundation.

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