The alarming increase of childhood obesity and other preventable cardiovascular risk factors compelled Dr. Kim Eagle to create Project Healthy Schools (PHS) — a community-University of Michigan Health System collaborative that provides a school-based program to reduce childhood obesity and its long-term health risks. Dr. Eagle is the Albion Walter Hewlett Professor of Internal Medicine and director of the Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center at the University of Michigan Health System.
PHS has been encouraging healthy habits in youth through education, environmental change and measurement since 2004 and has grown into a multifaceted program. It is currently in use in more than 50 schools throughout Michigan. PHS stands out from similar programs because of its evaluation results, significant community partnerships, and strong team of experts. In addition, the hands-on lessons and socio-ecological model, which engages the entire school community in this effort, make it a very effective, sustainable approach to impacting children’s health.
Studies have clearly shown that students who eat healthier and get more physical activity perform better in the classroom. Additionally, they are establishing behaviors now that may last their lifetime. Focusing primarily on middle school students, PHS aims to stem the tide of this epidemic by teaching youth healthy habits, developing healthy school environments, and creating an infrastructure that supports program sustainability and replication. Health behaviors are influenced and improved by these five program goals:
- Eat more fruits and vegetables
- Choose less sugary food and beverages
- Eat less fast and fatty food
- Be active every day
- Spend less time in front of a screen
The program encourages healthy habits through education, environmental change and measurement. It is one of the only school-based programs that have demonstrated significant improvements in both health behavior and cardiovascular risk factors, such as reductions in total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol), triglycerides, and blood pressure.