The Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation LLC awarded Quinnipiac University a $60,287 grant to fund the implementation of two nutrition programs in New Haven County elementary schools, according to an article submitted to the Hartford Courant by Associate Vice President for Public Relations John Morgan in February.
The programs were created by David L. Katz, M.D., director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, and his team of nutritional scientists. Edward O’Connor, dean of the School of Health Sciences at Quinnipiac, is partnering with Katz to curb the problems of childhood obesity in New Haven County while increasing awareness of healthy eating. The long-term goal of the project is to expand the studies performed in the county to the entire state of Connecticut.
“With the rising rate of obesity in the United States – in Connecticut alone, 25 percent of our high school students are overweight or obese – our goal is to deliver a proven, school-centered health promotion program that may be replicated in school districts in Connecticut,” O’Connor said.
Nutrition Detectives is one of the programs Katz and O’Connor are looking forward to launching over the next year. This strategy plans to educate school children on how to read food labels and detect marketing deceptions, which, will help them choose healthier food options.
The other program, Activity Bursts for Classroom (ABC) for Fitness, aims to provide a simple, engaging, free program that encourages physical activity in the classroom.
By breaking physical activity into short sessions, ABC for Fitness enables most children to accumulate at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day. Through previous research, it has been determined that the programs seem to work best at a “third-grade level,” according to Janet Headley, director of corporate and foundation relations.
“The idea is that we wish to develop and implement these programs in school, and then evaluate their effectiveness, and then disseminate the outcomes, hopefully to replicate the program elsewhere,” Headley said.
The Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center has collaborated with the Independence School District in Missouri since 2007, when it conducted a study to test if Katz’s programs would offer potential health benefits. Once these benefits were proven, these programs, along with a food scoring system (also developed by Katz) called NuVal, were implemented in elementary schools in the district. Techniques used in the Missouri study will be be utilized in the upcoming Connecticut study.
Last year, Quinnipiac had been in contact with two school districts in New Haven County, and still has to confirm that these two districts are interested in participating in the program. Two schools will be selected in each district, with one school in each being a control group while the other schools take part as an experimental group. The programs will be installed in the third grade, and booster sessions will be held in the fourth grade.
The grant given by Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield will also be used to fund salary support at the Yale-Griffin Center, whose researchers will be involved in training Quinnipiac faculty and students so they can effectively jumpstart the project. In addition, funds will be allocated toward necessary materials and stipends for the participating schools.
“We’re hoping to get additional funding for the project too that’ll help us expand what we’re doing and to really strengthen the parent component because parents have a strong influence on what their kids do,” Headley said.
The programs were originally slated to start Oct. 1, 2010, but issues with funding has left the decision up in the air. A project plan is being set up this month by the research group to gain a clear idea of the timetable needed to implement the programs.
The Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation is an affiliate of the WellPoint Foundation. WellPoint’s program, Healthy Generations, invests in domestic initiatives that help improve the health and well-being of communities.
“Funding such as this is really an investment in the program, and so they’re wanting to take the one that they think will be most successful,” Headley said, “We were fortunate that, in the proposals that were submitted, that ours was selected for funding.”
“As Connecticut’s largest health insurer, we have a unique responsibility to improve the health of our members, as well as the overall health of the communities in which they live,” said David R. Fusco, president of Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Connecticut. “The expansion of the fitness and nutrition programs spearheaded by Quinnipiac University will have a direct impact on the lives of Connecticut’s children.”
The partnership between Quinnipiac and the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center has been given more of an emphasis since first lady Michelle Obama created the “Let’s Move!” initiative in February. Mrs. Obama’s project also has the specific goal of solving the epidemic of childhood obesity within a generation. However, her initiative is intended to be widespread throughout the nation, as a federal task force has already been established to design a specific plan to deal with the problem.