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Applications being accepted for HEROES program

ALBANY -- HEROES, the national Youth Service America and UnitedHealthcare program that helps fight childhood obesity by providing grants to community organizations whose programs support this effort, is currently seeking applications from the Albany area.

This is the fourth year the grant program has been in place. Through the program, youths across Georgia have the opportunity to become "health heroes" by learning about childhood obesity, designing programs to address it and implementing programs in their communities.

"It's available to all kinds of community organizations," said Jane Anderson, who does public relations for the HEROES program. "It's for anything to help foster (the prevention) of childhood obesity."

Westover High School received a $500 grant through the program last year, which members of its Family, Career and Community Leaders in America group used to focus on Robert Cross Middle School and Merry Acres Middle School. Once a week, PowerPoint presentations, role playing, posters and games were used to educate students on the issue of childhood obesity. The middle-schoolers were allowed to discuss obesity, make posters expressing their thoughts on the issue, and in extreme cases, recommendations were made to Youth Becoming Healthy.

Comment from a representative of Westover High could not be obtained by press time Tuesday.

The deadline to apply for one of the HEROES grants is Monday at midnight. Recipients will be notified in December or January, with the funds being released shortly after. The programs being instituted as part of the grant program are expected to be culminated in April.

"Every year the response seems to get bigger and bigger," Anderson said. "A lot of it is word of mouth."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three children is either obese or overweight, putting them on the road to lifelong chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease. In Georgia, 37.3 percent of children ages 10-17 are considered overweight or obese. If left unchecked or untreated, obesity will affect nearly 43 percent of adults nationwide by 2018 and will add nearly $344 billion in that year alone to the nation's annual direct health care costs, accounting for more than 21 percent of health care spending, according to America's Health Rankings.

UnitedHealth HEROES is a service-learning, health literacy initiative designed to encourage young people and to work with educators and youth leaders to create and implement hands-on programs to fight childhood obesity.

Grants of up to $1,000 are awarded to programs that demonstrate an understanding of the health risks associated with childhood obesity; propose creative solutions to fighting obesity in their schools and communities; and can be easily implemented, scaled and measured.

"With the UnitedHealth HEROES program, we are helping young people take action to improve their overall health and quality of life in a way that's not only educational, but beneficial for their communities. We believe that as people become more aware of health issues through health literacy and advocacy initiatives they will make positive changes to live better lives," said Dr. Linda Britton, market medical director for UnitedHealthcare of Georgia, in a statement. "We look forward to seeing the creative ideas young people come up with to help fight obesity and encourage healthier living."

To date, UnitedHealthcare has awarded nearly 700 HEROES grants to schools and community organizations across the country. Earlier this year, more than 20,000 children logged in volunteer hours serving their communities to help reduce childhood obesity.

UnitedHealth HEROES grant recipients will have the opportunity to showcase their projects on YSA's 24th Annual Global Youth Service Day taking place April 20-22.

For more information or to obtain an application, visit www.ysa.org online.