BCBSRI grants $218K to anti-obesity programs

PROVIDENCE — Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island has awarded $218,000 through its BlueAngel Community Health Grants to nine organizations encouraging physical activity, improved nutrition and healthy eating in children in an effort to curb obesity.

“Childhood obesity is a major public health crisis in the country and in our state. In fact, Rhode Island continues to rank among the top 15 states with the highest obesity rates in children,” said Kim Keck, president and CEO of BCBSRI.

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The five new organizations receiving funding this year will bring healthy eating education through interactive programs and services:

In Washington County, the South County Health Equity Zone will receive $35,000 to expand Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds’ 5-2-1-0 Childhood Obesity Prevention Program. The program promotes a healthy living approach, advising five helpings of fruits and vegetables a day, two hours of recreational screen time, one hour or more of exercise, and zero sugary drinks, said Susan Orban, director of South County Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds.

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The effort intends to reach more than 6,000 children attending 37 targeted sites in Washington County, including early learning centers, Head Start, and elementary schools. Orban said the funding will help them teach the approach to schools, and make resources, such as games, posters and literature, available to help promote the approach to healthy living, which Oban said people of any age would do well to follow.

In Pawtucket, Farm Fresh Rhode Island will receive $22,000 for their farmers market-based education program, “Healthy Foods, Healthy Families.” The program delivers interactive food and nutrition workshops at farmers markets for families that receive federal food assistance — Women, Infant, and Children or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Provided in English and Spanish, the program empowers parents and children to build healthy habits together, and gain the tools to shop for affordable, seasonal foods and prepare them in kid-friendly ways, according to Farm Fresh Rhode Island.

Each week at the farmers market, families check in for that week’s fun activity, food tasting, or worksheet and connect with friends in the program and our educators. Families also take home free recipes, nutrition information, tips for fun and healthy eating—as well as financial incentives and other bonuses for every week of participation.

“Last summer, [more than 380] low-income families learned about nutrition and locally grown food options with us—a majority reporting the program led to an increase in their family’s overall fruit and veggie consumption,” said Onelissa Martinez, Nutrition Education Program Manager at Farm Fresh RI. “Thanks to this BlueAngel Community Health Grant from Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, we will be able to empower more Rhode Island families with the information and tools to make healthy choices and invest in their health and communities.”

At the Boys & Girls Clubs of Providence, the organization will receive $10,000 to offer “Family, Food and Fun!” cooking classes and nutrition education for families (adults and kids working together) at the South Side branch. Under the guidance of chef/nutrition educators, adults and children will create weekly recipes for class and at home.

Also in Providence, the Rhode Island Community Food Bank will use $11,000 to provide nutrition education to under-served populations, teaching about the importance of good nutrition, physical activity and healthy weights for children and families. Throughout 2019, the Food Bank will conduct eight Healthy Habits six-week class series.  Classes will be split between those offered to children at Food Bank after-school programs and those held at Food Bank food pantries for adults with children.

In Newport, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center will use a $25,000 grant to expand its wellness programs to include up to 1,970 children and their families. The center will bring a cooking and nutrition educator into their preschool, after-school and summer programs and continue offering family dinners to families of children in their childcare programs; support families through their food pantry; and fund access to the center’s dietitian and case management for their clients.

The center also plans to increase the number of parents participating in twice-weekly LiveFit nutrition classes.

BCBSRI also provided last year’s grantees the opportunity to reapply for year-two transitional funding, to build on prior successes. Transitional Blue Angels Grants funding has been awarded to all four organizations from last year’s BACHG class in the following amounts:

  • Children’s Friend, $40,000
  • Local Initiatives Support Corp., $30,000
  • YMCA of Pawtucket, $25,000
  • YWCA Rhode Island, $20,000

BCBSRI has donated more than $3.8 million to local nonprofits, aiding 300,000 Rhode Islanders through the BlueAngel Community Health Grants since its launch in 2002, the company reported. For the past five years, the funding has been focused on Rhode Island organizations promoting the importance of nutrition, activity and healthy weight for children and their families.

Rob Borkowski is a PBN staff writer. Email him at Borkowski@PBN.com.