ALBANY, Ga. -- As childhood obesity rates continue to rise, UnitedHealthcare is supporting kids' creative efforts to battle obesity through its UnitedHealth HEROES grant program.
At least one Albany organization took advantage of that this year.
UnitedHealthcare, a UnitedHealth Group company, recently awarded $3,500 in HEROES grants to schools and organizations in Georgia for youth-led projects that address childhood obesity. This included a $500 grant to Youth in Action for Healthy Lifestyles in Albany.
UnitedHealth HEROES is a service-learning, health literacy initiative developed by UnitedHealthcare and Youth Service America (YSA) designed to encourage young people, working with educators and youth leaders, to create and implement hands-on programs to promote healthy eating and lifestyles.
This is the fourth year the grant program has been in place.
The grant was awarded to Youth in Action for its "Let's Move Albany Youth," a program that, along with Mount Early Healthy Ministry, will feature cooking classes, nutrition education classes and physical activities.
The focus has been a dance workshop, which the group is planning to showcase to family and friends on March 10.
"I did a survey with the kids and gave them the choice between dance or a field day, and most of the responses were for dance," said Jasmine Warren, coordinator of Youth in Action.
The idea behind the organization, Warren said, is to look at all aspects to ensure children know how to take care of themselves, and reassure them that others in the community care about them.
"We try to target a lot of areas, and try to strive for better, healthier youth in the community," she said. "I'm so glad to receive this grant. There were so many things I wanted to accomplish."
Grants of up to $1,000 were awarded to programs that demonstrate an understanding of the health risks associated with childhood obesity; propose creative solutions to fight obesity in neighborhoods and communities; and can be effectively implemented, scaled and measured.
Obesity is considered a critical problem among America's children. According to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three children is obese or overweight, putting them on the road to chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease.
Officials with UnitedHealth say that in Georgia more than 37 percent of children ages 10-17 are considered overweight or obese, placing the state third in the nation for this problem.
If left unchecked or untreated, obesity will affect 43 percent of adults by 2018 and 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.
"I think the big thing is prevention," said Dr. Linda Britton, market medical director of UnitedHealthcare of Georgia. "With a weight problem, the best thing to do is not get there to begin with.
"I can't tell you that all of the programs (created through the HEROES grant) have continued over four years, but they certainly have a long-term impact."
America's Health Rankings is an annual state-by-state assessment of the nation's health published jointly by United Health Foundation, the American Public Health Association and Partnership for Prevention.
Applications for this grant cycle were accepted in the fall. A complete list of grant winners and their projects is available online at www.ysa.org/HEROES.