Healthy Kids Learn Better
If you were to ask Laurie Zenner how Healthy Kids Club got where it is today, the answer won’t shock you. The answer will inspire you to change your life and the lives of those around you.
“It’s not about me, the program or the health system. It’s about our kids. It’s about collaborating with others and working together to invest in their future,” said Zenner, Healthy Kids Club’s supervisor.
In 1998, University of Colorado Health, then Poudre Valley Health System, mainly focused community health efforts on education and health prevention through its Aspen Club/Senior Services program for adults over 50. It was becoming clear, through emerging childhood obesity trends, that a program focused on youth was needed. It would be a program designed to curb the development of lifelong chronic conditions through prevention and healthier living.
According to the CDC, childhood obesity in the United States has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years. In fact, the percentage of children aged 6–11 years who were obese increased from 7 percent in 1980 to nearly 18 percent in 2010. Overweight and obese children are at a higher risk of developing life-threatening adult health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Starting with schools
Before building what is now Healthy Kids Club, each Poudre School District principal was interviewed to find areas of improvement in our kids’ overall health. A few consistent trends were found to be influencing factors among kids’ health: reduced physical education and recess time, fast food, super-sized portions and increased screen time.
With that knowledge in hand and support from the school district, Healthy Kids Club was born. It started with after school and neighborhood programs focused on physical activity, the Healthy Kids Run Series and a monthly newsletter. And from there, it grew. 15 years later, Healthy Kids Club has expanded throughout Northern Colorado, serving communities from north Denver to Walden and everywhere inbetween.
Healthy Kids Club doesn’t simply offer programs to elementary schools, the goal is to partner with schools, youth-serving agencies and other community initiatives to work together to create change. As Zenner stated, “it’s not about us, it’s about collaboration.”
School wellness wasn’t on anyone’s radar 15 years ago, said Zenner. “We had to strategize and figure out ways to not only educate schools but build lasting principles and partnerships.” Healthy Kids Club started working on building wellness teams at each school. The wellness teams would take the principles learned and ingrain them into the school’s teaching philosophy.
Healthy Kids Club and UCHealth’s CanDo, the Coalition for Activity and Nutrition to Defeat Obesity, have been instrumental in partnering with schools to develop wellness policies and establish these school wellness teams. Currently, all Poudre School District, most of Thompson School District and, most recently, a school in Greeley, have teams that work to sustain wellness efforts.
Are wellness teams effective?
Ask Kristin Quere, PE Teacher at BF Kitchen Elementary in Loveland, “Our partnership with UCHealth and Healthy Kids Club has provided life-changing health and wellness opportunities for our students, staff and families.The knowledge and skills developed from Healthy Kids Club programs have enriched many lives and supported the steps needed to work towards lifelong well-being.”
Five years ago, BF Kitchen Elementary and Healthy Kids Club partnered up to improve the health and wellness of its students, staff and families. BF Kitchen is now a health and wellness-focus school committed to academic excellence by promoting high academic standards, increased physical activity, better nutrition and positive life choices for each student.
In 2011, BF Kitchen Elementary School in Loveland and Healthy Kids Club were honored by First Lady Michelle Obama at a reception at the White House, honoring them with the Gold Award of Distinction as part of the HealthierUS Schools Challenge Program.
The health landscape for our kids can’t be changed by financial involvement alone. Healthy Kids Club has spent the last 15 years rooting itself into our community at every level. Its health educators sit on school, neighborhood and city committees to be a voice for kids’ health.
“We are a highly-valued partner,” said Zenner. Kids and families love our programs and see great value in UCHealth’s investment in the health of our kids. We pride ourselves on being involved and trusted in the communities we serve.
What’s one simple message Healthy Kids Club can offer to change my child’s health?
Zenner says to focus on 5210 everyday. Eat at least five servings of fruits and veggies, limit screen time to two hours, get one hour of activity and try to avoid sugary drinks (zero is best). This simple message works wonders in both kids and adults. “Living simply and treating each other with kindness may be the best advice I can give,” said Zenner.
Healthy Kids Club is more than a program. It’s a community partner dedicated to making sure our kids grow up to lead healthy, vibrant lives.
This blog was written by Nicole Caputo, marketing strategist for University of Colorado Health.