Challenge Grant program shines at the 2012 Childhood Obesity & Public Health Conference

What does it take to “move the needle” on childhood obesity in Louisiana? It takes a community, to steal a well worn phrase on child rearing. But BCBSLAF Executive Director Christy Reeves underscored that point today as she addressed attendants of the 2012 Childhood Obesity & Public Health Conference at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge.

“If you want to go fast, go alone,” Reeves said. “If you want to go far, go together.”

And that’s the point, Reeves said, of the foundation’s Challenge Grant program, which offered millions in grant dollars to community groups with plans to spearhead healthy living programs in their neighborhoods, schools and parishes. Of course, they had to come up with matching funds to receive the grant dollars. And you know what? Twelve grant applicants lived up to that challenge, resulting in almost $27 million in combined funds now dedicated to health improvement initiatives across the state.

It’s a monumental effort to change childhood obesity rates in our state. Kid obesity rates in Louisiana have been dismal for several years. The 2012 Louisiana Report Card on Physical Activity & Health for Children & Youth, sponsored in part by BCBSLAF, tells a sobering story — giving F’s and D’s across the board in areas of physical activity, fruit and vegetable consumption and “screen time” (the amount of hours your average adolescent spends in front of a computer or television).

“Whenever your i-thing is on,” as Reeves says she explains it to her kids. “Your i-thing means you aren’t outside, being active.”

“The point is,” Reeves continued to tell the crowd, “How are we going to change all that? How are we going to take our state from D’s on a report card to A’s? How are we going to be a leader in health across the country?”

The Challenge Grant program, launched just a handful of weeks ago, is part of that plan, hoping to move not just select people, but an entire community — an entire state — thinking differently.

“I was here last year announcing our grant program, and it was probably the greatest moment of my career,” Reeves said.

And now, a year later, with the programs underway, Reeves has every reason to be impressed with the level of commitment from their Challenge Grant partners, who are using their dollars to improve parks, open fruits and vegetable markets, kick off fitness programs at elementary schools, build lighted walking paths, grow community gardens, teach nutrition classes, create biking paths and so, so much more… All projects have to be completed by 2015.

“We’ve never done anything of this size, with this level of community involvement. It’s a little scary. But it’s also very exciting,” she said.