Obesity is a national epidemic. In the past 30 years, obesity rates have doubled in children and tripled in adolescents (Fryar et al., 2014). Currently, 17% of youth in the United States, aged 2-19 years, are obese (Ogden et al., 2015). Childhood obesity can lead to severe long-term health risks, including diabetes and heart disease (Bray et al., 2004). Project Healthy Schools (PHS) is a community-university collaborative that aims to curb poor lifestyle habits developed in childhood. The program encourages healthy habits through education and environmental change (Rogers et al., 2017).
PHS has five main goals: (1) eat more fruits and vegetables, (2) choose less sugary foods and beverages, (3) eat less fast and fatty foods, (4) be active every day, and (5) spend less time in front of a screen. These goals are promoted through ten standardized, interactive lessons. PHS also works with school policy-makers to change vending machine and cafeteria food options, set up after-school activity programs, host field days, and coordinate many other environmental changes.
In 2004, PHS was piloted at Clague Middle School in Ann Arbor. The program spread to five additional Ann Arbor middle schools by 2006. Currently, PHS is being implemented in 85 Michigan schools and is quickly expanding to more. Through the help of many donors, PHS has been introduced to 42 new schools in the past three years. These include 9 new schools in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a region that had been previously uncharted by PHS.
To date, behavioral survey data from over 21,000 students and physiological data from over 3,000 students has been collected. With this continuously growing dataset, PHS has published 18 manuscripts and over 60 abstracts. This research has primarily focused on the program’s effectiveness, and the resulting publications have demonstrated immediate and lasting improvements in participants’ health. These improvements include decreased total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure, as well as increased physical activity and decreased sedentary behaviors.
This year, our research explored the effects of blood pressure, fruit and vegetable consumption, and mobile device usage on students’ health. A study of the effect of PHS on high-risk students was also conducted. PHS was implemented in two schools in Bangladesh starting in the summer of 2017. PHS plans to continue contributing to the nation’s evidence on effective school-based interventions for reducing childhood obesity and its long-term consequences.
Jean DuRussel-Weston, RN, MPH
Project Healthy Schools Program Manager
Dr. Kim Eagle
Dr. Elizabeth Jackson
You can help PHS win the fight against childhood obesity in Michigan. In addition to ongoing support received from the University of Michigan Health system, PHS depends on grants and donations to grow and sustain the program. Help PHS reach more students in more Michigan middle schools by making a donation today. DONATE NOW!