College's Center for Health and Community Impact helps schools improve students’ health and academic achievement through $4.7 million Building Healthy Communities partnership

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Nate McCaughtry
Nate McCaughtry

Building Healthy Communities: Engaging Elementary Schools Through Partnership is a comprehensive, healthy school transformation program that helps elementary schools throughout Michigan reduce childhood obesity and improve academic achievement. The initiative enables students to eat better, provides comprehensive nutrition education, increases opportunities for physical activity and exercise, and enhances school-wide policies and practices. The program includes six components: principal engagement, classroom education on healthy eating and physical activity, quality physical education, active recess, student leadership teams and healthy kids clubs. Since 2009, the center has received $4.7 million in funding from a range of organizations and positively impacted tens of thousands of young people and their families in hundreds of schools across Michigan. 

“The Center for Health and Community Impact is excited to work with partners across the state to share the goal of creating healthy school environments,” said Nate McCaughtry, Ph.D., center director and assistant dean of the Division of Kinesiology, Health and Sport Studies. “The long-term benefits of Building Healthy Communities — including obesity reduction, chronic disease prevention and increased school success — cannot be overstated in terms of the program’s impact on the overall well-being of Michigan children.” 

Jeanne Barcelona

The initiative provides students, teachers and administrators with the tools they need to change the school environment through healthy living activities, education and environmental reform. Using evidence-based best practices, coordinators engage school building leaders, classroom and physical education teachers, school staff and parents in providing consistent messages and educational opportunities that help children make healthy choices and transform schools into healthier places for children to learn. Some of the key scientific studies on the impact of the program have shown that students attending schools that implement the Building Healthy Communities program participate in significantly higher levels of health-enhancing physical activity, eat substantially healthier in line with USDA guidelines, have reduced rates of obesity and overweight and have improved academic achievement in core subjects, including literacy and math. 

The program is a partnership of statewide organizations, including Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the Michigan Fitness Foundation and the United Dairy Industry of Michigan. The Michigan Health Endowment Fund, Gopher Sports, Food Corps, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation, and the Community Telecommunications Network have also provided generous financial support. While numerous faculty, staff and students throughout the center, division and college have contributed to the successful design, implementation and evidence base of the program over the previous decade, it has been led by four key faculty contributors: principal investigator Nate McCaughtry and co-investigators Jeanne Barcelona, Ph.D., assistant professor of community health; Kristen Kaszeta, Lifestyle Fitness Activities program coordinator and lecturer; and Erin Centeio, former assistant professor (now at the University of Hawaii).

Kristen Kaszeta
Kristen Kaszeta

Visit coe.wayne.edu/centerforhealthandcommunityimpact/building-healthy-communities.php for more information about Building Healthy Communities.