Major Grant Amplifies Efforts of Childhood Anti-Obesity Alliance

CAN DO Houston (Children and Neighbors Defeating Obesity) will expand its community-based efforts with a $360,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s “Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities” initiative.

The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center will oversee and manage the grant, which was one of only three awarded in Texas and 41 nationally chosen from more than 500 proposals. Efforts will focus on three Houston neighborhoods: Magnolia Park, Sunnyside and Independence Heights.

CAN DO Houston was formed in 2008 by Houston organizations concerned with childhood obesity and its health effects, including M. D. Anderson’s Center for Research on Minority Health. By tapping volunteers and existing sources of funds, the organization focuses on improving nutrition, physical activity and healthy behaviors for children ages four to 12. The program’s centerpiece is establishing a tie between a school and a city park.

“Our goal is to connect a school with a city park not only for physical activity, but as a connection point for parents and students to get advice, assistance and access to good nutrition,” said Beverly Gor, executive director of CAN DO Houston and post-doctoral fellow in the CRMH, which is part of M. D. Anderson’s Department of Health Disparities Research in the Division of Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences. “We are fortunate to have the Houston Independent School District (HISD) and the City of Houston Parks and Recreation Department as partners in this initiative.”

HISD’s Briscoe Elementary, one of two pilot schools introduced to the CAN DO Houston initiative in 2008, bused children to Mason Park for exercise and sponsored student contests to win prizes for making healthy choices. “We already noticed an improvement in standardized test scores as a result of improved rates of participation in physical activity among the students,” said Briscoe Principal Juan Gonzalez, who is also a CAN DO Houston board member.

Gor coordinates the various programs and volunteers that make the project work. “What we do at each school depends on the needs of the community,” she said. New activities funded by the foundation grant vary in each community.

Briscoe will address safety concerns, establish walking clubs, provide cooking classes for parents and students, and support the First Class Breakfast Program that will provide a free and balanced breakfast to every student each day.

At Young Elementary in the Sunnyside area, grant funds will bring farmers markets to area churches on Sundays, provide parenting education classes and develop the community’s gardening program. CAN DO Houston plans to expand the initiative to Independence Heights and Burrus Elementary during the four-year grant period.

Almost one third of U.S. children are overweight or obese. In Harris County, 27 percent of fourth-graders are classified as obese and 19 percent classified as overweight.

“To reverse this epidemic, communities are going to have to rally around their kids and provide the opportunities they need to be healthy,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, M.D., M.B.A., president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “Through this project, CAN DO Houston and its partners are doing what it takes to make sure children lead better lives.”

CAN DO Houston is a private non-profit organization composed of representatives from M. D. Anderson, HISD, The University of Texas School of Public Health, Baylor College of Medicine, City of Houston Departments of Health and Human Services and Parks and Recreation, Healthy Kids, Healthy Schools Summit, Houston Police Department, the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, the Houston Wellness Association and the Mayor’s Wellness Council.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is the nation’s largest philanthropy focused exclusively on improving the health and health care issues facing our country. The Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities initiative is the foundation’s largest investment to date in community-based solutions to childhood obesity.

About M. D. Anderson
The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston ranks as one of the world’s most respected centers focused on cancer patient care, research, education and prevention. M. D. Anderson is one of only 40 comprehensive cancer centers designated by the National Cancer Institute. For six of the past eight years, including 2009, M. D. Anderson has ranked No. 1 in cancer care in “America’s Best Hospitals,” a survey published annually in U.S. News & World Report.

Source:  University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center

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