NYSAC News magazine, Spring/Summer 2018

Page 25

Building a ‘Healthy Highway’ across Oswego County Getting school children on the road to a healthy lifestyle By Marion Ciciarelli, Public Relations Manager, Oswego Health Diane Oldenburg, Senior Public Health Educator, Oswego County Health Department


oncerned about obesity rates among adults and students in Oswego County, members of the Oswego County Health Department (OCHD), Oswego Health (OH), and the county’s nine school districts have developed an amibitous program to improve the health status of local children. Thanks to funding provided by Oswego Health, the county’s leading healthcare provider, Oswego County, and the Shineman Foundation, an Oswego-based organization that supports programs that promote change, staff from Oswego Health and the Oswego County Health Department will roll out the Healthy Highway program in each of the county’s nine school districts this fall. The Healthy Highway program was developed by retired Rochester physical education teacher Wendy Cooper. The initiative combats childhood obesity by using traffic metaphors to teach students a common language regarding healthy choices in food and physical activity. Children quickly learn that it is important to “fuel” their bodies with “green light” foods and to limit the amount of “red light” food choices they make. It's all incorporated into a variety of activities to reinforce healthy choices and can be applied throughout the school. This program was piloted by the Oswego County Health Department several years ago in two elementary schools in the Oswego City School District. Evaluation of the program found that students were better able to identify “red light” and “green light” food choices and most importantly were using this information to make better choices in the cafeteria, when compared to their peers in the district that did not have the Healthy Highway Program implemented in their school. The Health Department also received positive feedback from parents who demonstrated that these important messages were being brought home to students’ families. The program will now be introduced in the elementary buildings in all nine school districts this fall and will be “driven” by school champions identified in each building. Oswego Health’s nurse educators and Oswego County Health Department public health educators, with assistance from two AmeriCorps members, will mentor school champions in each district to help implement the program across the county.

Key members of the Healthy Highway planning team receive training from program founder Wendy Cooper. They include Lori Greeney, OH; Cindy Walsh, CCE; Diane Oldenburg, OCHD; Lauren Whipple, CCE; Sonia Robinson, OCHD; Emily Boyle, OCHD; Sarah Wansink, OH; Frances DiFlippo, AmeriCorps, OH; Meghan Tice, AmeriCorps OCHD; and Wendy Cooper, founder of the Healthy Highway Program.

Additional community partners from Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE), Oswego County Opportunities, Rural Health Network, Northern Oswego County Health Services, Inc, and the Oswego YMCA are being engaged to assist with implementing Healthy Highway projects in the schools as well as bringing Healthy Highway messages to families and into the community. The program’s success will be measured by Dr. Taejin Jung from SUNY Oswego, who helped evaluate the pilot project in 2015. Dr. Jung will continue to measure changes in knowledge and behavior around healthy eating, along with working to learn the students’ motivation for wanting healthier eating habits. In addition, the project will look to identify changes in Body Mass Index data among elementary school students. With Oswego Health driving this initiative, this project will move Oswego County’s children and families down the road to good health. The healthy habits this program develops at a young age will help guide and support students throughout their lifetime.

NYSAC News | www.nysac.org