Healthy Environments, Healthy Choices, Healthier People

Creating school environments in La Crosse County that support healthy lifestyle choices and reduce obesity risk over the lifespan

Full Project Name:Healthy Environments, Healthy Choices, Healthier PeoplePrimary Community Organization:La Crosse County Health DepartmentPrimary Academic Partner:David Nelson, PhD, Family and Community MedicineAward Amount:$750,000
Award Date
January2013
Project Duration:66 months

Project Description Narrative:


Overweight and obesity continue to be major public health concerns across the U.S., with the prevalence of overweight and obesity increasing in children, adolescents and adults. In Wisconsin, two-thirds of adults and nearly 25% of children are overweight or obese, putting them at increased risk of morbidity from chronic illnesses such as hypertension, dyslipidemia, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancers.

In La Crosse County, obesity is a serious problem. Data indicate that 53% of children age 3 to 5 attending Head Start are or are at-risk of becoming overweight or obese while 36.3% of children age 2 to 4 participating in the La Crosse WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) program are overweight or obese. The issue remains as children age, with 21.8% of La Crosse County teens and 59% of adults ages 18 to 24 consisidered overweight or obese. Finally, among adults age 45 and older, a reported 73% of La Crosse County residents are overweight or obese.

Recognizing that more needs to be done to address this issue locally, project partners aim to create school environments that will support healthy lifestyles and reduce obesity risk over the lifespan through policy change, development of training alongside education and resources, and building an increased community understanding of obesity prevention practices.

Community partners:
Head Start Child and Family Development Centers, Inc. – Coulee Region, School District of La Crosse

Additional MCW academic partners:
Marie Wolff, PhD, Family and Community Medicine; Clare Guse, Family and Community Medicine; Melissa DeNomie, MS, Family and Community Medicine

Outcomes & Lessons Learned:


• Facilitated community and particpant engagement, conducting annual surveys with Head Start staff throughout the project and engaging staff at monthly meetings to share how they are using active lessons in the classroom

• Based on survey responses of school district administrators and staff, the School District of La Crosse plans to incorporate some components of the Smart Moves project into wellness programming moving forward

• Facilitated implementation of wellness policies and systems to monitor policies at five Head Start and 15 school/work sites • Documented that Head Start implemented and maintained weekly active lessons and equipment while also reinstating its Head Start Wellness Committee to support staff physical activity efforts

&bull: Documented progress among La Crosse School District sites, which included district-wide adoption of a student wellness policy to guide 15 school sites in implementing Smart Moves activities. Discovered further education is needed to raise awareness among all school staff regarding the policy

• Evaluated policy and system changes to identiy their impact on healthier school environments and levels of physical activity, showing that physical activity opportunities increased by 21%, demonstrating a culture shift around physical activity in the classroom through the Active School Environmental Assessments at 14 sites

• Presented project at various local networks and national meeting such as American Public Health Association Conference, Wisconsin Public Health Association Annual Conference, and La Crosse Healthy Living Collaborative

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