LOUISVILLE, Ky., April 17, 2019 School-based programs that increase children's access to healthy foods and incorporate more physical activity into the school day are among the practical strategies in a new report about reducing Appalachia's high obesity rates. Noting that residents of Appalachia suffer more frequently from obesity-related chronic health conditions than those living outside the region, the report suggests four strategic approaches:

  1. Establish healthy behaviors among children and youth to prevent childhood obesity.
  2. Increase the availability of affordable healthy foods and beverages in communities.
  3. Create safe communities that support physical activity.
  4. Increase physical activity and healthy eating among adults.

The report, Health Disparities Related to Obesity in Appalachia: Practical Strategies and Recommendations for Communities, was released today by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky and the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

The report emphasizes establishing healthy behaviors in early childhood and says that child care and schools are uniquely positioned to influence healthy habits. Examples of strategies that are working successfully in some Appalachian communities and elsewhere in the nation include programs such as Salad Bars to School and Farm to School. Both programs are based on research showing that students who have access to a fresh fruits and vegetables actually do eat more of those foods and add more variety to their diets. Another example is a Pike County, Ohio, program that conducted a 30-day "Sodabriety" challenge that reduced student consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.

"Policies that ensure healthy foods are available for purchase in rural Appalachian communities - such as the tax credit for farmers who donate their products to local food banks that has been enacted in Kentucky and West Virginia - are essential," said Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. "But grocers cannot afford to stock fresh produce that rots on the shelf, so we also must enact policies and strategies shown to increase consumption of these foods."

Such policies might include higher taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages and offering incentives to SNAP and WIC participants that increase the value of dollars spent on fruits and vegetables, according to the report.

"School-based healthy foods programs also increase demand at the grocery store as children ask their parents to buy foods they've tried at school," Chandler said.

Community trails and parks where children and adults in the community can safely engage in physical activity are key to getting residents to choose these options over video games and television. The report released today highlights the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky's Investing in Kentucky's Future initiative, which provided grants and technical assistance to six counties working to reduce childhood obesity. Many of the counties used some of the funds to build sidewalks, walking paths at schools, playgrounds and trails, along with implementing school-based nutrition and physical activity programs. The report suggests several sources of funding for building and maintaining facilities in Appalachian communities.

While the report emphasizes youth intervention, it also offers several strategies for promoting healthier behaviors among adults. These include tax credits for worksite wellness programs, as well as social network programs that motivate people to engage in more physical activity. Western Maryland Health System, for example, offers grants and insurance to walking clubs and similar groups throughout a three-state region.

Obesity: Practical Strategies is one of three capstone issue briefs released today by the Appalachian Regional Commission and Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It is accompanied today by two additional briefs: Health Disparities Related to Smoking in Appalachia: Practical Strategies and Recommendations for Communities, and Health Disparities Related to Opioid Misuse in Appalachia: Practical Strategies and Recommendations for Communities. This series of briefs was developed as part of a health research initiative, Creating a Culture of Health in Appalachia: Disparities and Bright Spots. The first Bright Spots report documented the dramatic health disparities in Appalachia compared to the rest of the nation. The second report identified "bright spots" - Appalachian areas that scored much better than expected given the economic, resource and other challenges they face. The third report offered a deep dive into 10 representative bright spots counties. The Bright Spots project also includes an interactive website, healthinappalchia.org, where users can explore extensive county-level health data for the entire region.

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About the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky
Funded by an endowment, the mission of the nonpartisan Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky is to address the unmet health needs of Kentuckians by developing and influencing policy, improving access to care, reducing health risks and disparities, and promoting health equity. Since the Foundation opened its doors in 2001, it has invested nearly $28 million in health policy research, advocacy, and demonstration project grants across the Commonwealth. Follow the Foundation on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, and visit our website at www.healthy-ky.org.

About the Appalachian Regional Commission
The Appalachian Regional Commission (www.arc.gov) is an economic development agency of the federal government and 13 state governments focusing on 420 counties across the Appalachian Region. ARC's mission is to innovate, partner, and invest to build community capacity and strengthen economic growth in Appalachia to help the Region achieve socioeconomic parity with the nation.

About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
For more than 45 years the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to improve health and health care. We are working alongside others to build a national Culture of Health that provides everyone in America a fair and just opportunity for health and well-being. Support for this research project was provided by RWJF. For more information, visit www.rwjf.org. Follow the Foundation on Twitter at www.rwjf.org/twitter or on Facebook at www.rwjf.org/facebook.

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