Being active is only one component of leading a healthy lifestyle. Eating right is just as important but many students lack access to the information and resources needed to eat a healthy, sustainable diet. According to Harvard Health, the American Obesity Epidemic is at an all-time high, with close to 70% of people being overweight or obese. Improving what you eat can have a significant impact on overall health, heart health, and chronic disease prevention.
That’s why the CrimFit Nutrition Team implements nutrition lessons right into the school day. In 2019, Nutrition Coordinators taught nearly 800 lessons to students in grades Pre-k through 8th grade and interacted with each student more than 28 times. All students receive 5 to 6 lessons over the course of the year that includes fun activities on how to increase fruit and vegetable consumption, daily physical activity, and at home nutrition.
Additionally, the Crim partners with FoodCorps, an AmeriCorps program, to provide additional nutrition education to students and families. Four FoodCorps service members manage large gardens at eight Community School sites, where students learn exactly how to plant, cultivate, harvest, and cook healthy foods. FoodCorps members also advocate for awareness of healthy food options in school lunchrooms.
Outside of schools, the nutrition team works to educate parents and families at various community sites such as the Flint Farmers Market, Meijer stores, and five local food pantries. Nutrition Coordinators share nutrition education from the Michigan Harvest of the Month curriculum, provide a tasting of recipes, and are present to answer any questions residents have about how to increase fruit and vegetable consumption. The outcomes speak for themselves: seventy- one percent of parents of K-6 students reported an increase in their child’s fruit and vegetable consumption!
So much of what people eat is dictated by food access, which is often influenced by existing policies, systems, and proximity to stores and markets. For instance, students often eat meals at schools and they have little choice in what is provided. In order to influence food access at a policy level, the Crim, in partnership with the Michigan Fitness Foundation, is working with schools, food pantries, businesses, and other nonprofit agencies to provide training and advocacy opportunities to make healthy eating a top priority.
Currently, the work entails partnering with five local food pantries and more than a dozen local schools. Kelly McClelland, Nutrition Program Manager, stated, “Our goal is to evolve to the point where we are becoming coaches. In this way we can help educate employees and volunteers, building their capacity, so that they can better serve their clients.” Some of their coaching accomplishments include working with school staff to make lunchrooms healthier, more inviting, less chaotic places for students to eat. Also, McClelland has worked with pantries to alter organizational layouts to highlight healthy food options and increase whole food consumption, as well as provide food safety training.
McClelland described her advocacy work in this way: “We don’t just want to tell people the foods they should eat but we want to provide the support so that they can sustain the lifestyle. We also want to empower people so they know how to ignite large scale changes by working with school leadership or elected officials.”
In the future, she hopes this work will entail looking at the policies and systems that govern what kids eat in school, especially since many children consume most or all of their meals there.
Long term change takes creative strategies, patience, and collaboration. It was with that in mind, that the Crim’s Nutrition Team decided to expand its policy, systems and environmental change efforts by collaborating with the Safe & Active Genesee for Everyone coalition, a cross-sector network of advocates convened by the Crim Active Communities team. Together, the Nutrition and Active Communities teams worked to identify opportunities to support the Nutrition Team’s policy, systems, and environmental change efforts.
As a result of this collaboration, in 2019, the CrimFit Nutrition and Active Communities teams received a grant from the American Heart Association to participate in Voices for Healthy Kids, a statewide collaborative seeking to make long-term health and nutrition changes for youth and their families. As a part of that work, the Crim and its partners in the Voices for Healthy Kids program began to advocate for federal funding for healthy school lunch programs and improved school wellness policies.
“Since 2008, the SAGE coalition has advocated for policy, systems, and the built environment changes that improve access to physical activity,” said Active Communities Director Theresa Roach. “Collaborating with the nutrition team to support their expansion into advocacy work was a natural fit.”