Health Care

UnitedHealth HEROES grant helps group create 'Healthy Choices, Healthy Lives' program

Obesity continues to be a problem in America and it's not just the projected 43 percent of adults who will be obese by the year 2018 if current trends continue, said Dr. Linda Britton, market medical director for UnitedHealthare for Georgia.

In Georgia alone, 37.3 percent of children are overweight or obese, the third highest rate in the nation.

These numbers are part of the reason UnitedHealthcare partnered with Youth Service America to develop UnitedHealth HEROES, a grant program that helps foster youth-led projects that address childhood obesity.

This year $3,500 in HEROES grants were awarded to schools and organizations across Georgia, including a $500 grant to Columbus State University's Empowered Youth of Columbus.

Anne Thibault, EYC's program coordinator, said the grant has allowed the group to expand its partnership with the Boys and Girls Club by starting a theater program, which is led by Cassandra Scott, a junior educational instructor for EYC.

The program is called "Healthy Choices, Healthy Lives" and while adults facilitate the program, the kids are responsible for writing skits and raps, making puppets and creating characters.

"One of the things that I really like about the grant is that (adults) are leading the program but kids are really doing it all," said Thibault.

Scott emphasized how important it is for kids in this age group, which ranges from 9-12 years old, to not only learn the importance of eating well and leading a healthy life, but also how to work with one another and stand up to let their voices be heard.

She said creatively, the kids have been consistent in bringing new ideas to the class, but that their attitudes have changed throughout the program.

"Where I've seen the change is their behavior," said Scott. "Being willing to say 'yes' or being willing to commit to something. At this age group you get giggles and laughter and you get no commitment when it comes to acting. I think on April 20 they will stand on that stage with nothing (to worry about), just ready to perform and commit."

April 20, Global Youth Service Day, is when the kids will perform their program for the public.

Britton said that the presentation of the message is a big part in getting the grant, noting that kids are often more receptive to messages delivered from other kids.

"We really just need a culture shift in the United States about eating choices," she said, noting that prevention is the key to reducing the obesity rate.

And Thibault said the great thing about spreading this healthy message through theater is that it's fun for the kids presenting it, as well as entertaining for the audience.

Scott said that when she and Thibault were writing the grant, they discussed all the factors that contribute to a healthy life, including mental and emotional health. With the recent rise and emphasis on bullying, Scott noted how being bullied can lead to unhealthy life choices and she's pleased with how the kids in her class have learned to be respectful of each other.

"When they shout at each other and tell each other what to do, that's a form of bullying and all it's adding is stress and stress is going to make somebody even more unhealthy," said Scott. "And I think in a way it's gotten through to them."