Success Story: Helping Kids, Families Get Fit

Preventing childhood obesity and diabetes

Paola and  SilviaEven though Minnesota has a reputation for good health, 1 in 4 Minnesota children ages 10-17 are overweight or obese. Chronic health problems have serious consequences, and chronically poor health disproportionately affects children and youth from low-income families. To combat these problems, United Way has teamed up with a number of community partners to invest in programs that support healthy, preventive behaviors that pay off for youth, families and our community.

The YWCA’s Strong, Fast, Fit program, supported by United Way, is one example. The program focuses on reducing childhood obesity and type II diabetes among Latino and Native American youth and their families. A 12-month commitment, the program incorporates healthy cooking classes, educational games and exercise (like swimming, kickball and an obstacle course). Youth meet twice a week to develop fitness and nutrition habits.

"We're a big family. We're a big community. We have to work together," said Luis Ramirez, YWCA program coordinator. The YWCA has found that youth are more successful when their families are involved, so parents, caregivers and other family members also take part in family fitness events, adult cooking and nutrition classes and use the Y’s fitness facilities. Paola and Silvia, pictured above, took part in a Splash and Dash relay—a 100-yard swim and a one-mile run—as part of the program.

Preventing obesity among youth is also done from the stage. Illusion Theater & School, Inc.’s Ready, Set, Action program, supported by United Way, provides school-based programming for youth that fosters healthy eating, exercise and body image through a play that students can perform for their own communities.

United Way is also partnering with the University of Minnesota and W.I.S.E. (Woodson Institute for School Excellence) Charter School to provide comprehensive obesity prevention by providing healthy eating options in the cafeteria, suggestions for healthy eating at home, increased physical activity and more.

In 2009, over 1,300 youth and their families served by United Way programs successfully showed a lower blood pressure/heart rate and progress towards a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI). And encouraging healthy behaviors is just one component of United Way’s impact. Other programs provide:  early screenings for hearing, vision, oral health, asthma, and mental health for children birth through age 10; education about healthy behaviors to reduce pregnancy and poor birth outcomes among teens; and oral health education and preventive dental care for children birth through age 5 and pregnant women.

Overall, United Way and its partners helped 11,255 youth with preventive care services in 2009, exceeding our goal by nearly 100 percent. To learn more about this and other goals, visit our impact.