North Carolina SCORE Project

Childhood Obesity Takes Center Stage at NCSBA Conference

Approximately 75 local school board members and superintendents were urged to educate “the whole child” and not just their minds during the North Carolina School Boards Association Invitational Conference in Raleigh May 17-19. Dr. Howell Wechsler, director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Adolescent and School Health, encouraged educators to provide environments that foster the physical health of students.
Wechsler pointed out that research shows school health and fitness programs not only improve student health, but also academic outcomes. “There is a strong consensus that health is academic,” Wechsler said. “Until we address the health barriers to learning, we are not going to succeed.”
The Council of State Governments sponsored Wechsler’s appearance at the NCSBA conference through funding provided as part of the Southern Collaborative on Obesity Reduction Efforts—or SCORE. SCORE is an initiative created by CSG in 2008 that is working to develop policies to reduce childhood obesity in the six states with the highest levels of childhood obesity. The effort is funded through a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Leadership for Healthy Communities.
In addition to Wechsler’s message, SCORE funded two breakout sessions led by Jayne Greenberg, executive director of physical education and health literacy for Miami-Dade County Schools in Florida. She has created a visionary health and physical education program that includes wellness centers at nearly every middle and high school without using any district funds. That information clearly got the attention of school board members in a state currently facing a $3.2 billion shortfall based on a $20.8 billion budget.


Walking Increases At North Carolina School

Like at many other schools, teachers at Olive Chapel Elementary School in Apex, N.C., watch a steady stream of cars dropping off children each morning and picking them up in the afternoon – this, despite the fact that many of the 1,100 students live less than a mile from the 12-year-old school.
To encourage more students to walk and ride bicycles, the school has set aside the first Wednesday of each month for walking school buses, in which parent volunteers accompany groups of children walking from designated points in parks and neighborhoods to school. Since the Walking School Bus Program began, the traffic count at the school has been reduced from more than 200 cars on non-walking days to 77 cars on Walking Wednesdays.
Efforts to encourage students to walk to school are likely to increase in coming months. The school has received a $250,000 grant from Safe Routes to School that will result in timed crosswalks at a busy intersection near the school and speed limit signs being installed. It also will provide funds to complete a sidewalk from an apartment complex and a path through a park that ends before reaching the school. The SRTS grant also will provide bicycle safety instruction and at the end of the course, all 1,100 students will get a bicycle helmet.
“It takes all of five minutes to walk to school,” said Patty Freuhauf, a mother of two children at Olive Chapel. “We have this mentality that we have to get in the car to get someplace. (On Walking Wednesdays) you see your neighbors. You get some sunshine. The kids think it’s cool to walk to school.”

The first Wednesday of each month has become a Walking Wednesday at Olive Chapel Elementary School in Apex, N.C. Groups of parents volunteer to walk children to school from approximately eight drop off points, all within one mile of the school. Since the Walking School Bus Program began in 2003, the number of vehicles dropping off and picking up students has dropped from 200 on a typical day to 77 on a Walking Wednesday.


Faith-Based Group Fights Childhood Obesity

Although most of them are still too young to vote – many too young to drive a car – North Carolina is creating a team of advocates to push for healthy lifestyles in their communities. Youth Empowered Solutions (YES), a Raleigh-based nonprofit organization, received a two-year $220,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in January 2009 to fight childhood obesity through faith-based youth advocacy programs.
During the past year, YES youth advocates created grassroots organizations to fight tobacco use in public places in North Carolina. Bronwyn Lucas, executive director of YES, said the teenagers will use some of the same strategies to convince local policymakers to take steps to reduce childhood obesity. The organization will begin by selecting one faith-based youth group in each of five counties that were selected because of high levels of childhood obesity and large minority populations.
Lucas says the teens, who will be recruited as high school freshmen, will create toolkits and resources with a focus on advocacy. They also will work to educate their peers about obesity. “They talk about media and media advocacy. They talk about public speaking. They talk about finding out who the key decision-makers are. They talk about how to frame their arguments,” Lucas explained.
The project, called Healthy Vessels, will expand during the second year of the grant to include a second faith-based group from each of the same five counties. Each team will encourage local policymakers to adopt at least one measure from a list of 15 environmental policy changes, such as opening school playgrounds to communities after school hours and building more sidewalks.
The North Carolina project is one of 21 faith-based organizations being funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation nationwide. More information about YES is available on its website.