Innovation comes in many forms and this week a small city suburb of Boston received much recognition for their approach to creating a healthier community. Some may call it innovative, others may call it common sense, but few (if any) have been able to make the commitment Somerville, MA made to improving the health of their residents - especially their young people. The program (called: Shape Up Somerville) targeted 1,178 1st-3rd graders with the general community as a secondary audience. Its primary mission was to create healthy eating and physical activity messages and increase opportunities for physical activity and healthy eating, specifically fruits, vegetables, legumes, low-fat dairy and whole grain products throughout the children’s day. The program was made possible by a three year $1.5 million research grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and another smaller grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. For those of you counting beans, the program had a per student cost of approximately $1,273, but when you consider the community as a whole the cost per individual is reduced to $19.50. So, did the investment pay off? The Tufts University research team responsible for securing the grant, preparing the community for the program and evaluating its results believe it did.
Led by Christina Economos, from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, the Tufts University team created a community-based environmental approach to obesity prevention for the Somerville students and their community. The team focused on the following areas: School Food Service, In-school Curriculum, After School Curriculum, Community Outreach, Restaurants, Safe Walking Routes to School, School Nurses, Pediatricians, and Policy Changes. Taken from an article published by MSNBC, Economos says, "What is different about this intervention is that we engage the entire community and we intervened before school, during school, after school, in the homes throughout the community and really changed the world that the children lived in." (article) The researchers found that schoolchildren in Somerville gained a pound less than their counterparts in two nearby control communities. The results of the study were published last week in the journal Obesity. Another popular journal, the Wall Street Journal, featured the Shape Up Somerville program prominently on their front page and had this to say about the program, "The Somerville program, designed primarily by Dr. Economos and fellow researchers at the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition, offers a surprising blueprint. It didn't force schoolchildren to go on diets. Instead, the goal was to change their environment with small and inexpensive steps. Dr. Economos, a specialist in pediatric nutrition and the mother of two school-age children, has long believed that the battle against obesity can't be fought at the dinner table alone but requires social and political changes."
Although few, if any communities will be fortunate enough to receive a $1.5 million grant to implement a program such as Shape Up Somerville, the hope is that the lessons learned will inspire others to take action and improve on the blueprint that now exists. Shape Up Somerville has proven that a community united can make a positive difference in the health of their residents - now it's up to others to do the same for their community. Are you one of those others? Are you willing to step outside your comfort zone and take a risk for the benefit of a community? Will community businesses and political leadership do the same? Peter F. Drucker said "What you have to do and the way you have to do it is incredibly simple. Whether you are willing to do it is another matter." Only time will tell...
In good health,