Feature Article - March 2010
Find a printable version here

Steps Toward Wellness

Communities & Facilities Take Action to Improve Health

By Dawn Klingensmith

Ask the Experts

Besides eliminating redundancies and defraying program costs by pooling resources and sharing expenses, partnerships with hospitals, health-related nonprofits and other organizations ensure program instruction and information is safe, accurate and effective.

When the Westerville (Ohio) Parks and Recreation Department deemed it critical to address the childhood obesity epidemic, it partnered with Columbus, Ohio-based Nationwide Children's Hospital to develop a fun but effective program without breaking the bank. With regard to weight management and nutrition, "We don't always have answers for everything, so it behooves us to find experts on these subjects and develop partnerships," said Mike Herron, the recreation department's fitness manager.

Westerville's FitQuest Kids' Club aims to educate children and their parents about the importance of healthy eating habits and daily physical activity. More specifically, the program encourages kids to increase their fruit, veggie and water intake while decreasing the amount of time spent in front of TV, computer and videogame screens.

The hospital's Center for Healthy Weight and Nutrition provided nutrition guidance for a refrigerator chart that children can use to help them make healthy eating and leisure decisions. For each fruit, vegetable and water serving consumed, kids get to color in pictures of representative icons, such as an apple, a carrot or a drinking glass. For every 15 minutes of physical activity, they get to color in an athletic shoe, and then redeem their filled-out charts for sports equipment provided by sponsors.

Nationwide Children's Hospital made for an ideal and easily forged partnership because "hospitals have an interest in nutrition from the preventive side," Herron said.

Goodemote agrees that for any wellness program, it's a "huge advantage" to get hospitals involved. They bring resources and expertise to the table; add instant credibility and increased visibility; and have access to, and influence over, community members who are most in need of wellness interventions.

Public agencies, health departments, school districts, sports organizations, police and fire departments, and affiliates of national organizations such as the American Heart Association are all prospective partners for parks and rec initiatives aimed at promoting wellness.

As for attracting private-sector sponsors, "Businesses offering goods, services and facility space basically get free publicity," which is a compelling reason to participate in communitywide health initiatives, said Goodemote, who is putting together a 90-day wellness program for Fulton County that will receive newspaper and radio coverage free of charge.

Taking the long view, helping to develop preventive health programs can lead to a workforce that's less stressed out and prone to illness, and ultimately more productive, which translates to increased revenues for local businesses.