A 2003 survey of children's homes in North Carolina and South Carolina revealed that 24 percent of the children in these homes were overweight. To help create and sustain environments that support healthy eating and physical activity at 25 children's homes in North Carolina and South Carolina, The Duke Endowment invested $1.5 million from 2004 to 2008. This initiative is now closed.
In 2003, 24 percent of the children in group homes were overweight, nearly double the national average. Physical wellness, including a healthy diet and regular exercise, is a critical part of overall well being for children and has a direct impact on their academic performance, self-esteem and mental health. Children who are overweight or obese are more likely to be overweight or obese as adults, and more likely to develop heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, some types of cancer, and other chronic illnesses. For children in group homes, being overweight adds another hurdle to emotional, social or mental health challenges that many of them face.
To help children's homes improve the physical well-being of the children in their care, The Duke Endowment created the Wellness Project in 2004, a five-year, $1.5 million project led by the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina. The Wellness Project's goal was to help improve eating habits at group homes and increase physical activity on their campuses. Twenty-five homes participated in the project: 13 in Phase I, which began in 2004, and 12 in Phase II, which began in 2006. This initiative is now closed.
Focus on Environment
Because the average length of stay in a children's home is less than one year for younger children, and one to three years for older ones, making an impact on individual students can be a challenge. The Wellness Project offered an intensive intervention, with a focus on changing the environment of the group homes, rather than the behavior of individual students.
Staff from the Arnold School of Public Health provided training, technical assistance and ongoing support to Wellness Teams at each group home. The teams worked to do more than just "talk the talk," but to become change agents for their campuses. They created customized plans to encourage children (and staff) to eat at least five servings of fruit and vegetables each day and to engage in one hour of physical activity five days a week. The Arnold School team also provided hands-on training for front-line staff that helped them serve as role models for healthy behavior. On most campuses, the Wellness Teams formed partnerships with other community organizations to provide nutrition-related services. The intervention strategy allowed for flexibility to adapt to each group home's culture and abilities.
In the 29* participating sites, the Wellness Project reached a total of 582 residents in its first three years.
*Five homes were enrolled by Baptist Children's Homes.
See participating sites in North Carolina and South Carolina.