Growing Healthy Kids Columbus Coalition Works to Prevent Childhood Obesity
By JoJo Zamoiski
Outreach and Engagement Communications Intern
Eating healthy isn't always the easiest thing to do, especially when you are very young and may not have control over your food choices. Luckily, the Growing Healthy Kids Columbus Coalition is helping to build the healthiest generation yet. With 45 organizations involved, including OSU Extension and Columbus Public Health, the coalition networks and collaborates on childhood obesity prevention efforts. By making small changes throughout the Columbus area, the coalition is starting to see a big difference with the way children are eating.
"The work of the Growing Healthy Kids Columbus Coalition is so important because it focuses in on pregnant women and young children," said Carol Smathers, assistant professor in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences. "These groups have unique challenges when it comes to nurturing healthy habits and maintaining healthy weights that often get overlooked in health promotion initiatives. Everyone in the coalition cares about these populations and enjoys working together toward common goals."
Smathers, who is also a field specialist for youth nutrition and wellness, OSU Extension Family and Consumer Sciences, shares how she became involved with the coalition, "I was first involved while working in the College of Public Health and conducting research in the South Side of Columbus. We partnered with the coalition, which is facilitated by Columbus Public Health, to help them with evaluation. In 2013, I was asked to co-chair the coalition." Since then, Smathers has worked hard to see the coalition evolve into what it is today. Along with the other co-chair, she has created a steering committee and organized monthly meetings to make sure that everything and everyone stays on track.
The coalition's objectives focus on population-level health promotion strategies. "We try to consider the influences on children's nutrition behavior and then modify social, organizational, and system-wide factors to provide more healthful options," Smathers said. The coalition offers professional development opportunities to strengthen its members' efforts in these areas. Year-end assessments from 2015 indicate that 16 new policies around nutrition, physical activity, reduced screen time and breastfeeding were adopted by partner organizations. In addition, 315 policies were implemented by early care and education settings through technical assistance provided by coalition member organizations. In 2016, 72 percent of coalition organizations either implemented or continued implementation of a policy or environmental change.
The coalition received Ohio State's Excellence in Community Partnership Award in 2015, which came with a $1,000 gift. Coalition members decided to divide the gift and offer mini-grants to fund physical activity, healthy eating and breastfeeding resources for coalition members' innovative community events. One example of a "Pay It Forward" event was a "do it yourself" yogurt bar family event hosted by a preschool for low-income families. Children's Hunger Alliance used a "Pay It Forward" award to create a granola parfait bar at an event that only served doughnuts in previous years. Implementing things like this made a big difference in the quality of the events and also educated attendees on healthy options.
Granola bars and parfaits were just the beginning of the healthy changes being made throughout Columbus. The coalition has now developed resources around "Healthy Gatherings." The "Healthy Gatherings" campaign promotes healthy eating, physical activity and smoke-free environments at meetings, events and celebrations. Staff meetings and family nights are now seeing the healthy behaviors needed to promote the well-being of attendees. Coalition members have even re-organized pantries so that the healthy foods are closer to the front and the fruits and vegetables look more appealing. The YMCA jumped on board and made a policy change that now allows them to serve "family-style" to children instead of offering only individually packaged, processed foods. Smathers shares, "Kroger (which had a representative in the coalition) has taken the initiative to host grocery store tours to show their customers how to eat healthy and find healthy foods within the store."
Although it takes a lot of effort to make a noticeable difference, with the help of Smathers and many others, Growing Healthy Kids Columbus is working toward a healthier and brighter future. With all 45 of their partners, they are impacting thousands of lives. It is with the help of those who are involved with this coalition that we can expect a better reality for the generations ahead of us.