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September 21, 2018

September is National Childhood Obesity Month -

Building a 'Healthy Highway' Across Oswego County: Getting Schoolchildren on the Road to a Healthy Lifestyle

By Diane Oldenburg, Senior Public Health Educator, Oswego County Health Department and Marion Ciciarelli, Senior Director of Communications, Oswego Health

OSWEGO COUNTY - Members of the Oswego County Health Department, Oswego Health, and the county's nine school districts have developed an ambitious program to improve the health status of local children. The plan originated from a concern about obesity rates among adults and students in Oswego County.

The month of September is observed as National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. This provides a chance for all community members to learn more about this serious health condition. While there is no simple solution, there are many ways communities can support children on their journey to good health.

Thanks to funding provided by Oswego County, Oswego Health, the county's leading healthcare provider, and the Shineman Foundation, an Oswego-based organization that supports programs that promote change, staff from Oswego Health and the Oswego County Health Department will roll out the 'Healthy Highway' program in each of the county's nine school districts this fall.

The 'Healthy Highway' program was developed by retired Rochester physical education teacher Wendy Cooper. The initiative combats childhood obesity by using traffic metaphors to teach students a common language regarding healthy choices in food and physical activity. Children quickly learn that it is important to "fuel" their bodies with "green light" foods and to limit the amount of "red light" food choices they make. It's all incorporated into a variety of activities to reinforce healthy choices and can be applied throughout the school.

This program was piloted by the Oswego County Health Department three years ago in two elementary schools in the Oswego City School District. Evaluation of the program found that students were better able to identify "red light" and "green light" food choices and most importantly were using this information to make better choices in the cafeteria, when compared to their peers in the district that did not have the 'Healthy Highway' Program implemented in their school.

The health department also received positive feedback from parents who demonstrated that these important messages were being brought home to students' families. "I think the best thing about the 'Healthy Highway' at Riley has been watching our students choose healthy foods and seeing that they are enjoying them! I have also experienced students sharing the information with their families. I know of one student that asked his mother to shop for more 'green light' foods," said Dr. Linda Doty, Principal at Charles E. Riley Elementary School.

The program will now be introduced in the elementary buildings of all nine school districts this fall and will be "driven" by school champions identified in each building. Oswego Health's nurse educators and Oswego County Health Department public health educators, with assistance from an AmeriCorps member, will mentor school champions in each district to help implement the program across the county.

Additional community partners from Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) of Oswego County, Oswego County Opportunities, Rural Health Network, Northern Oswego County Health Services, Inc., and the Oswego YMCA are being engaged to assist with implementing 'Healthy Highway' projects in the schools as well as bringing 'Healthy Highway' messages to families and into the community.

The program's success will be measured by Taejin Jung, Ph.D., professor of communication at SUNY Oswego. Dr. Jung helped evaluate the pilot project in 2015 and will continue to assess the outcomes of the program expansion.

Working together, the community partners and residents, all have a role in making healthier foods, beverages, and physical activity the easy choice for children and adolescents to help prevent childhood obesity.

With Oswego Health "driving" this initiative, this project will move Oswego County's children and families down the road to good health. The healthy habits this program develops at a young age will help guide and support students throughout their lifetime.

For more information, contact Diane Oldenburg, Senior Public Health Educator at the Oswego County Health Department, weekdays, phone 315-349-3587, or e-mail diane.oldenburg@oswegocounty.com.


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