One in three Americans relies on Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies for access to safe, quality, and affordable healthcare, but our responsibility does not end there. We help our members tackle some of the biggest challenges facing the neighborhoods where we live and work, and that commitment extends to our communities as well.
With obesity more than doubling in children and quadrupling in adolescents over the past 30 years, the 37 independently operated Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association have made the issue a top priority. Below is a snapshot of several recent Blue Cross and Blue Shield company programs located in the areas most at risk for childhood obesity across the United States.
In 2013, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association joined forces with The Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), an organization that brings together private, public, and nonprofit leaders to end childhood obesity. Together, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and PHA developed the Play Streets program.
Play Streets routinely closes streets to traffic and then opens that space to the community to encourage physical activity. Twelve Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies partnered with PHA and their local government officials to host 48 events across 10 cities. Collectively, Play Streets:
- Reached almost 72,000 attendees:
- Greatest number of attendees at one event—Savannah,Georgia, with 13,000 attendees; and
- Greatest total attendees—Minneapolis, Minnesota, with 27,500 attendees across four events.
- Generated 192+ hours of physical activity programming for communities in need.
- Created 42+ miles of open space for children and their families to be physically active.
- Caguas, Puerto Rico, reported the longest street closure, with an average of four miles of open space across four events.
Be Healthy School Grant Program
The Be Healthy School Grant Program awards grants to elementary schools in one state to start school-based health and wellness programs. Since 2012, the program has reached several milestones:
- 12,700 students participated in the program.
- 75% of the students were able to achieve “meets expectations” level on the U.S. Department of Education physical education testing standard, as compared to 50% before the program started.
- 90% of students were able to correctly answer questions on a nutritional choices test.
- 80% of students could correctly read nutrition labels found on food packaging.
Healthy Futures Initiative
One Blue Cross and Blue Shield company developed the Healthy Futures Initiative, a three-year program and prospective research study to improve childhood health. The initiative provides 25 elementary schools with resources to encourage children to eat right, get fit, and stay well. A local university was engaged to conduct a research study of fourth-grade students who will be followed over three years, tracking changes in body mass index, waist circumference, prevalence of chronic disease, compliance with mandatory screenings, and fitness assessments. As part of the study, a local nursing college is conducting focus groups to assess nutritional awareness to track the students’ wellness measures and screenings. The study’s findings will help the local Blue Cross and Blue Shield company and its collaborators shape recommendations for future child wellness initiatives.
2 Step in the Classroom
2 Step in the Classroom was jointly created by one Blue Cross and Blue Shield company and a state university agricultural center in fall 2013. With 2 Step in the Classroom, children in kindergarten through fifth grade have fun while learning about physical activity and nutrition. State agriculture and healthy cuisine are reinforced, while children are engaged with examples relevant to where they live, learn, and play. In spring 2013, 2 Step in the Classroom was launched as a pilot program, resulting in a 7% increase in step counts for second, third, and fourth graders.
National Scope, Local Impact
Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies believe childhood obesity trends can be reversed and are working with local organizations in all 50 states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico, to do just that.
By empowering children, their families, teachers, and physicians with information and opportunities to engage in healthy behaviors, Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies are fostering the next generation of healthy Americans.
This article appears in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Corporate Citizenship Center report, Building a Healthier World: Private Sector Solutions that Save Lives
Photo by Andrew Monson