CHAMPAIGN — Schools, workplaces and the University of Illinois campus will be pulled into a community-wide plan to help more kids and adults in Champaign County slim down, pick up their physical activity levels and otherwise improve their health.
The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District is using a newly awarded We Choose Health community-transformation grant for $211,922 from the state to launch three major initiatives, said district Administrator Julie Pryde.
Specifically, the grant will be used to:
— Put the Coordinated Approach to Child Health program (known as CATCH), which aims to teach schoolchildren better nutrition and boost their activity levels, in all Champaign County schools. CATCH is currently only in some schools, Pryde said.
— Work on developing more smoke-free public zones, with a major focus on exploring making the University of Illinois a smoke-free campus. The Champaign County Tobacco Prevention Coalition will work with off-campus property owners to explore smoke-free housing options.
— Launch workplace wellness initiatives, initially focusing on government employees.
First on the agenda will be the "Two Ton Challenge" to encourage city, park district, health district and county employees in Champaign-Urbana, Fisher, Mahomet, Rantoul, Savoy and Tolono to lose a collective 4,000 pounds.
Next is working with Carle Foundation Hospital, Provena Covenant Medical Center and Health Alliance Medical Plans to expand the program.
Pryde said all these initiatives will build on efforts that have been under way for about five years by a large local coalition working on improving health and fitness among local families.
A coordinator is being hired to work within the public health district to expand and work with the CATCH program at Champaign County schools and help C-U Fit Families become an official nonprofit organization to carry on its work, she said.
Fighting the tobacco industry took a long time, and taking on the sugar and fat industry isn't going to be easy, she said.
The U.S. doesn't subsidize fresh fruits and vegetables, she pointed out. It subsidizes grains and oils that wind up in fatty foods and sugary cereals.
Meanwhile, obesity contributes to $117 billion in annual medical and lost productivity costs in the U.S. and one-third of kids and adolescents — more than 23 million American youths — are now obese, Pryde said.
"We are fighting against subsidized junk," she said.
Pryde also said her first smoke-free target will be the public health district's own 7-acre campus. The building is smoke-free, but public health clients have to walk through second-hand smoke outdoors to get to it, she said.
Achieving that same victory for the UI campus "would be monumental," she said.
The weight challenge she has in mind for government employees is nothing she hasn't done herself, Pryde said. She recently set out to lose some weight and dropped a pants size by watching what she ate and walking more, she said.
Dr. James Leonard, CEO of the Carle Foundation, said Carle is pleased to support the health district's initiatives. Carle has been seeing the effects of obesity and smoking on its patients and has undertaken wellness initiatives of its own, he said, but can't achieve a healthier community alone.
The Provena United Samaritans Medical Center Foundation also received a $44,000 We Choose Health grant to help fight obesity and cut the smoking rate in Vermilion County and help improve health on a community level.
Provena plans to work with the two major family housing developments at the Danville Housing Authority and Vermilion Garden Apartments to adopt smoke-free policies, identify and develop more walking trails and help schools offer more healthful food choices in cafeterias.
The grants were part of a total $3.5 million awarded through the new We Choose Health program launched by the Illinois Department of Public Health.
The state received a federal Community Transformation Grant to offer money to community organizations willing to take on projects to increase the availability of healthier foods, promote a more active lifestyle and reduce second-hand-smoke exposure.