By Paula Little
What do you want your child to be when he or she grows up? For concerned parents and community leaders in Clinton County, the overwhelming answer to that question has nothing to do with a career choice or monetary success. They say, “We want our children to be healthy.”
You see, Clinton County has extremely high rates of obesity — along with the chronic diseases, poor quality of life, and early mortality that often results from it. The roots of obesity begin in childhood, when lifestyle habits first develop. The Clinton County Healthy Hometown Coalition is working on a comprehensive, long-term approach to find ways to help our children eat better and exercise more. A collaboration of local government, medical professionals, health organizations, local businesses, media, and youth aims to focus on what happens during the school day and what happens at home.
We want children to make physical activity part of their daily routine. To improve health in our community, Clinton County has:
- Implemented more physical education time for students during and after school;
- Utilized the Take 10! curriculum to incorporate more physical activity in the classroom;
- Helped students develop individual IFit goals to track their fitness improvements;
- Held community events to promote physical activity including family walks and runs, Be Active clubs, and Zumbathons;
- Provided free fruits and vegetables for snacks and free healthy breakfast, lunch, and dinners for each child;
- Removed deep-fryers from new school kitchens and offered healthy cooking classes for parents;
- Installed a new playground and paved walking track at a local park; and
- Changed local policy by establishing a shared facilities agreement between the schools and community organizations, more evening hours at the park, and the inclusion of healthy choices for park concessions.
Additionally, a partnership with Cumberland Family Medical Center has provided a health clinic in each school. All children in Clinton County Schools have their Body Mass Index (BMI) taken. When visiting the school clinic for a well-child checkup, each child also receives obesity counseling, letting them know the importance of healthy eating and exercise. In fact, this policy has proven so beneficial, that Cumberland Family Medical now requires practitioners at all its clinics across Kentucky to conduct obesity counseling for all children and parents during visits.
To keep the “good health” message front and center, the Coalition wages a constant media campaign. We get our message in local newspapers, on the radio, and shared through social media. The goal of our message is to get people to replace unhealthy habits with eating healthy and exercising regularly.
Of course, we know that changes will not happen overnight, but we are heartened by the growing momentum and the positive outcomes we have already seen. As one grandmother shared with me recently via email, “When my granddaughter told me that she didn’t want to eat French fries because they were not healthy, I knew you all (the Coalition) were doing something right.”
More environmental and policy changes are planned for the upcoming year, including the addition of a multi-purpose field and toddler playground at a local park.
Most folks have strong feelings about their hometowns. In Clinton County, we use the influence of those feelings to be positive and to encourage our children to be healthy.
If you think your community could benefit from helping children develop healthy habits, I would encourage you to become part of a growing call to action. Don’t think that your community is too small or your problem too great. (If you do, remember Clinton County!) There are many wonderful resources in Kentucky, where you can get advice, support, and even funding. Get a few key leaders together who love their hometown and who want their children to grow up healthy. Call other communities who have already started the work. Brainstorm ideas and involve the youth in your town.
Let’s give every child in Kentucky the Healthy Hometown they deserve!
Paula Little is the Assistant Superintendent and Supervisor of Instruction of Clinton County School District. She can be contacted at (606) 387-6480 and via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.