RD394 - Obesity Prevention Funding for Community-Based Organizations in the Commonwealth – November 2016

Executive Summary:
During the 2009 General Assembly session, the General Assembly directed the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth (VFHY) Board of Trustees to devote at least $1 million per year from its budget toward childhood obesity prevention efforts.

The majority of this funding has been dedicated to VFHY’s Healthy Communities Action Teams (HCAT) program.

In 2016, VFHY awarded its fourth round of two-year HCAT childhood obesity prevention grants. VFHY awarded $1.1 million in HCAT grants for FY17 and FY18 to establish and/or support 21 community partnerships across Virginia to fight childhood obesity on the local level. Funding and training provided by VFHY through the HCAT grants allow these community organizations to implement promising practices in childhood obesity prevention suggested by the national Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (A list of grant recipients can be found on page 10 of this report.)

VFHY’s HCAT grantees implement a variety of IOM/CDC-suggested strategies for childhood obesity prevention, such as working with or establishing farmers’ markets to increase community access to fresh produce; increasing physical activity in children enrolled in after- school programs; creating and maintaining community gardens; increasing breastfeeding; and increasing awareness of good nutrition habits. HCAT grantees, which were selected by an independent grants application review panel, are required to comply with VFHY evaluation and reporting procedures.

Communities being served by VFHY’s FY17-18 HCAT grantees include: Arlington County, Alexandria, Albemarle County, Charlottesville, the Eastern Shore, Fairfax County, Floyd County, Fluvanna County, Greene County, Hampton Roads, Harrisonburg, Henry County, Loudoun County, Louisa County, Martinsville, the Middle Peninsula, Nelson County, New River Valley, Northern Neck, Page County, Pulaski County, Richmond, Rockbridge County, Scott County, Smyth County, Stafford County, and Warren County.

VFHY continues to partner with First Lady of Virginia Dorothy McAuliffe on her initiative “Bridging the Nutritional Divide,” which focuses on the areas of childhood nutrition and food security. VFHY is a member of the First Lady’s Commonwealth’s Council on Bridging the Nutritional Divide. Through this partnership, VFHY works in cross-agency collaborations with the Department of Education, the Virginia Department of Health, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Department of Social Services and other agencies to improve food delivery systems so that nutritious and fresh food products are more accessible to Virginia’s children and families. Additionally, VFHY has assisted in developing the council’s forthcoming website, My Virginia Table. This website will house state data resources, including a community-level nutrition and hunger-prevention database, as well as share information about statewide events and initiatives to end childhood hunger.

VFHY also supports the First Lady’s efforts to increase school breakfast participation across the state. Through the school breakfast stakeholders group, VFHY is working with groups such as the Virginia School Nutrition Association, Southeast United Dairy Industry Association, Virginia Action for Healthy Kids, the state Department of Education and school and community partners to promote school breakfast as a strategy for improving health and education outcomes. VFHY’s high school volunteer group, Y Street, has taken a leadership role in these efforts by creating Great Starts with Breakfast, a campaign to increase school breakfast participation. Y Street members are promoting the Virginia School Breakfast Challenge in public schools statewide as well as meeting with school leaders to encourage the utilization of alternative breakfast models such as breakfast after the bell programs. Governor McAuliffe and the First Lady announced in September that 5 million additional school breakfast meals have been served in cafeterias throughout the state as a result of these collaborative efforts.

Last year, at the request of Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam and the Commonwealth’s Council on Childhood Success (CCCS), VFHY convened and led a workgroup of early childhood education leaders and organizations to review and determine best practices for nutrition and physical activity in Virginia’s early childhood centers. The workgroup included stakeholder groups such as the state Department of Social Services, the Virginia Department of Health, the Virginia Association of YMCAs, Childcare Aware of Virginia, the American Heart Association, the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation and Virginia Head Start. The workgroup presented its best practices recommendations at the April 2016 CCCS meeting.

VFHY also holds Virginia Healthy Youth Day events every January to promote increased physical activity, tobacco-free living, and better nutrition for children. Established by a Virginia General Assembly resolution, Virginia Healthy Youth Day is sponsored by VFHY and promotes healthy lifestyles for Virginia’s children, including eating right, exercising and not using tobacco products. Each year VFHY celebrates Virginia Healthy Youth Day at the Capitol Bell Tower and with community-based events. Past Virginia Healthy Youth Day events have been a great success: In 2016, more than 50 Virginia Healthy Youth Day events were held in communities across the commonwealth. Additionally, VFHY held a breakfast with General Assembly members and stakeholders to highlight the foundation’s role in empowering Virginia’s children to make healthy choices.

Another annual VFHY initiative is Rev Your Bev, which raises awareness about the health effects of consuming sugar-sweetened beverages. Rev Your Bev brings community groups, educators and health advocates together to change the way Virginians think about beverages. Since 2013 more than 160,000 Virginians and approximately 720 partner organizations have participated in Rev Your Bev events across the state. The Rev Your Bev initiative culminates in Rev Your Bev Day each May when partners celebrate with interactive displays and educational opportunities. In addition to raising awareness about sugary drinks, Rev Your Bev Day events collect information via surveys to learn Virginians’ perceptions of sugary drinks. Previous Rev Your Bev survey results revealed that Virginians of all ages are unaware of the health effects of sugar-sweetened beverages.

To support efforts to increase access to healthy foods within Virginia communities, VFHY participates in the American Heart Association’s Closer to My Grocer campaign, along with a diverse coalition of stakeholders including health, business, government and child advocate organizations. Closer to My Grocer promotes strategies for attracting supermarkets, corner stores, farmers’ markets and other healthy food retailers throughout the commonwealth. To assist in these efforts and address food deserts in Virginia, Y Street launched a campaign called Fresh Spot, which aims to increase awareness about community access to fresh, affordable, locally grown produce via neighborhood corner stores and supermarkets. Through Fresh Spot, Y Street members collect information about the availability and accessibility of fresh, nutritious foods and provide consumer education on gaps in access to healthy foods.

Another initiative in which VFHY participates is Screen-Free Week, a national campaign held each May to encourage children and families to get unplugged from televisions, computers and electronic devices and find fun, healthy, active alternatives for entertainment and family time. VFHY has partnered with the Virginia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, early childhood education advocates and local librarians for Screen-Free Week activities. In 2016 VFHY held Screen-Free Week events at the Petersburg Public Library and area schools.

VFHY also celebrates National Childhood Obesity Awareness month each September by highlighting the successes of local VFHY grantees working in their communities to promote healthy eating, physical activity and obesity prevention.

Finally, VFHY collaborated with the Virginia Department of Health to administer the Virginia Youth Survey. This biennial statewide youth health survey, which was administered in fall 2015, provides information on nutrition, physical activity and other health behaviors for Virginia middle and high school students. Through this partnership, VFHY and the Virginia Department of Health are reducing the overall cost of conducting multiple surveys and the burden on schools. The data provides statewide and regional statistics, which assist in determining geographic areas with the greatest need for services or intervention.