A recent New York Times article highlights an often-overlooked issue behind why children from lower-income families often have poor nutrition: kids are picky eaters. The article points out that children’s taste develops with repetitiveness – meaning a child who doesn’t like cauliflower would have to taste and waste this food “eight to 15” times to develop a liking for it. For many parents with a limited budget, buying food that may go uneaten is a luxury they simply can’t afford. Outside of the home, children spend the majority of their time at school, so educators are in a prime position to help support parents’ efforts by exposing children to healthy foods and options. In 2009, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan took on the challenge of helping Michigan kids make healthier choices by creating Building Healthy Communities, a school-based program designed to fight obesity and improve childhood health inside and outside the classroom. Building Healthy Communities is an evidence-based, comprehensive, school-wide initiative that provides teachers and administrators with tools and resources to help students build healthy habits that can be carried into adulthood. Participating schools receive resources to promote nutrition education and increase access to healthy, nutrient-rich food and beverages. In addition to helping kids adopt a healthier diet, Building Healthy Communities also helps schools increase access to physical activity opportunities and teach physical education. Seven years later, the program has grown into a statewide public-private partnership that has touched the lives of 180,000 students in nearly 400 schools. Research shows, students attending Building Healthy Communities elementary schools eat 40 percent more fruits and vegetables than the national average of six- to 11-year-olds. Teachers and administrators regularly hear stories from parents who are shocked when their kids ask for vegetables on their own, and eat everything they put in front of them. Students in participating elementary schools also show a 28 percent increase in calories burned over one year, and see significant improvements in reading and math. Parents shouldn’t have to choose between cutting costs and offering their kids healthy foods. Building Healthy Communities is just one example of how organizations can come together to support parents’ efforts to help kids learn to try – and love – healthy foods, making the healthier choice the easier choice for kids to make and parents to offer. For more information on the Building Healthy Communities program, including how schools can apply, visit bcbsm.com/buildhealth. Building Healthy Communities is a private-public initiative supported by multiple statewide organizations, including Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the Michigan Department of Education, the Michigan Fitness Foundation, Michigan State University Extension, Michigan Team Nutrition, United Dairy Industry of Michigan, University of Michigan, Wayne State University Center for School Health and Action for Healthy Kids.
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