Health

Louisville students living in under-served neighborhoods are benefiting from a program aimed at helping them live healthier, according to a progress report released Monday.

The Farm to Family Initiative at Hazelwood and Wellington elementary schools was implemented 15 months ago to prevent childhood obesity among children ages  8 to 12. The initiative  is a collaboration between  KentuckyOne Health and the Food Literacy Project.

The report shows that 41 percent of students now eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day—compared to 23 percent of students when the program began. It also shows that 91 percent of students engage in at least 60 minutes of daily physical activity, an improvement from 63 percent.

The initiative includes education about healthy eating, activities such as yoga and more.

The elementary schools are located in “food deserts”—urban neighborhoods without access to fresh, healthy and affordable food, said Alice Bridges, vice president of Healthy Communities for KentuckyOne Health.

She said access to healthy foods is important for students to develop healthy habits.

She said it was important to work with the community to address the root outcomes of obesity.

“The rates of childhood obesity are rampant and we have to find some ways to change that trajectory so that we don’t have every other kid being diabetic. It’s a real epidemic and something that has to change, ” she said.

Thirty-seven percent of Kentucky children are overweight or obese, according to an estimate from the Child Policy Research Center.

The two Louisville elementary schools involved in the initiative have similar situations. At Hazelwood, 36 percent of students are overweight or obese, according to the progress report. At Wellington, 37 percent of students are overweight or obese.

The majority of students at both schools also qualify for free or reduced lunch —96 percent at Hazelwood and 88 percent at Wellington, according to the progress report.

Bridges said the $200,000 grant from the Johnson & Johnson Community Health Care Program for the Prevention of Childhood Obesity will fund the initiative for one more school year.

The Food Literacy Project teaches students how to grow and cook their own food. The percentage of students who have eaten a vegetable they harvested or picked themselves has grown from 59 percent to 90 percent. More students also know how to prepare a healthy recipe—93 percent, compared to 63 percent when they program began.

Bridges said what children learn in the program while they’re at school can be carried home to their families.

“Children who live in challenged neighborhoods deserve every resource to help them choose healthy behaviors and to really be successful for life,” she said.