Building Healthy Communities Program Celebrates 15 Years of Improving Children's Health in Michigan K-12 Schools

Meghan O'Brien

| 6 min read

DETROIT, Oct. 5, 2023 —148 K-12 schools statewide teaching 62,334 students have been selected to participate in the Building Healthy Communities (BHC) program this school year. As the program celebrates its 15th year, over a half-million students have benefitted from physical and emotional health-focused improvements to the school environment led by Building Healthy Communities. Thirteen organizations, which are statewide leaders and experts on health and well-being, have partnered to reach 1,260 Michigan K-12 schools with the sustainable, evidence-based tools and resources offered by the program.
Michigan schools were invited to apply for one of three program options for the current school year. Building Healthy Communities offers multiple programs so schools can apply for the option that best meets their needs, including BHC: Reducing Health Disparities in Elementary Schools (grades K-5), BHC: Engaging Middle Schools Through Project Healthy Schools (grades 6-8) and BHC: Step Up for School Wellness (grades K-12).
This comprehensive programming aims to create healthier school environments and, in turn, reduce childhood obesity, prevent chronic disease, improve academic achievement and address mental health and well-being.
Building Healthy Communities has a proven history of improving the health of students who participate in the program, including:
  • An increase in healthy foods consumed, with 40% more fruits and vegetables consumed than the national average.
  • An increase in physical activity, including a 700-step increase per day and 35 additional minutes per week of moderate to vigorous physical activity.
  • Increased academic achievement in math and reading, reporting 19 minutes less of screen and video time per day and 74% reported that it was easier to pay attention in class.
  • Improved nutrition and physical activity behaviors are associated with sustained improvement in known cardiovascular risk factors.
Building Healthy Communities strives to reach Michigan schools across the state and especially those in critical need of support to meet the needs of students and staff around healthy eating, emotional well-being and physical activity. Of the 148 participating schools, 74% are in low-income, under-resourced communities in areas of great need across the state. Providing resources in areas of greatest need increases both the opportunity to address disparities and positively impact marginalized groups.
Launched in 2009, Building Healthy Communities is supported by multiple statewide organizations, including Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Michigan Department of Education, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), Michigan Elementary and Middle School Principals Association (MEMSPA), Michigan Fitness Foundation, Michigan Recreation and Park Association, Michigan State University Extension, Michigan Virtual, OK2SAY, SHAPE Michigan, United Dairy Industry of Michigan, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University Center for Health and Community Impact.
“Over the last 15 years,the Building Healthy Communities program has been established as a positive force for change within Michigan K-12 schools,” said Ken Hayward, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan vice president and special assistant to the president for Community Relations. “Impacting over 538,000 students and 1,260 schools since Building Healthy Communities began, our evidence-based program provides students with the resources they need to make better nutritional choices, promote physical movement and regulate emotions – all of which are tools that will grow with children and create healthy, well-rounded adults in the future.”
“Supporting the health of our residents means also bringing resources to our youngest community members where and when they need them,” said Elizabeth Hertel, director, MDHHS. “Increasing access to healthy food choices and opportunities to be physically active in schools can help students attain and maintain a healthy mind and body, reduce risk of chronic disease and support academic achievement.”
“The Building Healthy Communities: Step Up for School Wellness program is excited to be part of a well-being movement in Michigan schools that continues to positively impact the health behaviors of both students and staff. Year-after-year, the program results create enthusiasm and support among school administrators that encourages schools to sustain and further build a culture of well-being. MEMSPA is pleased to be a partner in this important work,” said Paul Liabenow, executive director of MEMSPA.
“United Dairy Industry of Michigan has been a longtime advocate for child nutrition and wellness initiatives and is proud to be a longtime partner with the Building Healthy Communities program. As our goals align, a foundation of nutrition education and ensuring dairy and other nutritious foods are accessible daily to our students can provide a life-changing impact,” said Brianna Henton, registered dietitian and health & wellness director at United Dairy Industry of Michigan.
"The sustained success of the Building Healthy Communities program is a testament to what happens when many committed organizations work together with aligned objectives," said Dr. Nate McCaughtry, director for the Center for Health and Community Impact and Assistant Dean of the Division of Kinesiology, Health and Sport Studies at Wayne State University. "In the elementary Building Healthy Communities program, we're proud to continue promoting health-enhancing physical activity, improving children's nutrition knowledge and habits, and creating a culture of wellness in schools. Our work aims to meaningfully address disparities that impact a child's health and social outcomes, leading to long-lasting impacts for families and communities.”
“Project Healthy Schools is looking forward to our continued partnership with Building Healthy Communities for the 2023-2024 school year in our new middle schools across the state. The success of Building Healthy Communities as a program is a testament to all the organizations who continue to strive to create healthier school environments and improve health and academic outcomes for all Michigan students. As we continue to work in partnership to address the unique health challenges in Michigan schools, we are committed to providing the most beneficial program and resources for all participating schools. This year, we are thrilled to be expand our reach into school buildings and communities where we can continue to engage with students, teachers, staff and families through physical activity, nutrition, and social emotional knowledge and skill-based education,” said Kim A. Eagle, MD, co-founder of Project Healthy Schools, Albion Walter Hewlett Professor of Internal Medicine Director, Frankel Cardiovascular Center.
“We at Michigan Virtual take pride in our partnerships with exceptional organizations to support the Building Healthy Communities program to enhance the well-being of students throughout Michigan,” said Walt Sutterlin, senior director of Strategic Communications and Partnerships, Michigan Virtual.
"OK2SAY, Michigan's Student Safety Tipline, is pleased to be a part of Building Healthy Communities initiative which unites many organizations and interest groups with the goal of enhancing the safety and quality of life for children in Michigan," said Ms. Kim Root, section manager of the Office of School Safety in the Michigan State Police.
“Using Moderate to Vigorous Activity (MVPA) as a metric, teachers can gauge effectiveness of their programs and students can learn how to monitor their activity levels to optimize their performance. Building Healthy Communities provides equipment and training that has immediate impact in schools and influences long-term lifestyle choices among students,” said Dr. Deb Berkey, Professor-Emerita, Western Michigan University and executive director of SHAPE-Michigan.
Building Healthy Communities supports Blue Cross’ ongoing commitment to children’s health and its #MIKidsCan campaign, an initiative focused on encouraging kids to adopt healthy habits and get active for at least 60 minutes every day. For more information on Blue Cross’ ongoing efforts to help improve childhood health, visit
For a full list of all the schools receiving Building Healthy Communities programming for the 2023-2024 school year, click here.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit mutual insurance company, is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. BCBSM provides health benefits to more than 4.7 million members residing in Michigan in addition to employees of Michigan-headquartered companies residing outside the state. The company has been committed to delivering affordable health care products through a broad variety of plans for businesses, individuals and seniors for more than 80 years. Beyond health care coverage, BCBSM supports impactful community initiatives and provides leadership in improving health care. For more information, visit and
MI Blues Perspectives is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association