Foundation says its 6-year, 7-county effort to help communities tackle health issues can be a model for the rest of the state

Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky map of recently finished “Investing in Kentucky’s Future” program

If more Kentucky communities tackled their health issues as communities, the overall health of the state could be improved. That’s one lesson of a six-year program that the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky recently completed in seven counties.

The “Investing in Kentucky’s Future” initiative focused on children. It “improved student eating habits, increased youth physical activity, trained teachers to support students experiencing trauma, and increased youth resilience,” the foundation said in a report on the program, which reached nearly 13,000 students in 28 participating schools.
It said the initiative “strengthened cross-sector coalitions” in the seven counties and “led to the adoption of 38 local ordinances and policies to help sustain the improvements and promote health equity long-term.” Looking ahead, it “has prompted the foundation to expand its work in obesity prevention and childhood trauma interventions.”
For example, in May, the foundation announced a $200,000 grant in Russell and surrounding counties to address childhood trauma in a rural setting, building on lessons from a Jefferson County program that was part of the initiative.

The overall goal of the $2.4 million initiative was to reduce school-aged children’s risk of developing chronic diseases later in life. The communities contributed $1.7 million in matching funds, as well as countless volunteer hours by local citizens.

“Health is something that people don’t typically recognize as a community undertaking, and this initiative aimed to transform that thinking and set in motion a series of changes that will lead to healthier, more productive adults throughout each participating Kentucky county,” foundation president and CEO Ben Chandler said. “We’re sharing what’s been learned so other Kentucky communities can replicate these achievements.”

An event of the Clinton County Healthy Hometown Coalition

Six of the participating communities (Breathitt, Clinton, Grant, McLean, McCracken and Perry counties) chose childhood obesity prevention as their issue. Jefferson County focused on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and building resilience in children who have faced trauma.

Both issues are complex, and influenced by a variety of factors, so they require involvement by various sectors of the community, working in a coalition, the foundation said. With its report, the foundation released videos on obesity prevention and ACEs to help other Kentucky communities.

“Participants told us that identifying a local champion and engaging the school system were critical to success in each of the counties,” Chandler said. “But by far the most decisive factor was ensuring that the local health coalition includes multiple members from a broad range of community organizations: schools, hospitals, elected officials, youth groups, and businesses. It takes more time to get everyone aligned but the resulting collaboration makes all the difference in creating long-term change to improve health.”

The grant “gave us an opportunity to do something big and to really make an impact and we’ve done that,” Marsha Bach, a member of the Grant County coalition, Fitness for Life Around Grant County (FFLAG) and a health promotion manager with the Northern Kentucky Health Department, says in the obesity video.

Each grant included a one-year planning phase in which the foundation provided training and technical assistance for development of a business plan. This made the program more accessible to small communities with fewer resources, said Amalia Mendoza, senior program officer at the foundation, who developed and oversaw the program.

Among the successes the foundation listed were:

  • New policies expand physical education in middle school, require future streets to be usable by walkers and cyclers, allow school fitness equipment to be used by the community after school, and make healthier foods available in schools and park concession stands.
  • New facilities include parks, fitness equipment, sidewalks and walking paths, playgrounds, filtered drinking water fountains, community trails and standing desks in schools.
  • Many communities leveraged the Foundation grant to secure additional funding. For example, the Purchase Area Health Connections-Paducah Chapter secured another $400,000 Rotary Club grant to build a playground at the health park developed with foundation funding, and then another $500,000 donation to build a second phase of the park; sidewalks to school in Grant County will be part of trail system funded by a follow-up grant from another foundation.
  • More than 90 percent of students had increased physical activity and improved nutrition, from such measures as classroom movement activities and standing desks; events such as fun runs, walking and biking programs, and the Annual Nutrition Fair created by the Partnership for a Healthy McLean County; a “Fitness Buddies” program of the Clinton County Healthy Hometown Coalition, in which high-school students helped third and fourth graders with intense physical activity; elimination of deep fryers in school cafeterias; installation of filtered drinking water fountains; and work with farmers to get more fresh produce to students.
  • All six coalitions began or expanded student food programs over the weekends or the summers. Most students reported that school was the only place they got fruits and vegetables. Offering fresh produce at snack time “appears to be a successful strategy” to increase consumption, the report found.
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