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Helping Kids and Their Families Live Healthy

In 2005, Armstrong School District administrators were surprised to find out that according to national standards almost 35% of children in the district were overweight or obese. As a result of this finding, several organizations in Armstrong County came together to develop HEALTHY Armstrong, a collaborative that focuses on improving the health and well-being of children and their families. HEALTHY stands for Healthy Eating Active Lifestyles Together Helping Youth. Key stakeholders include ACMH Hospital, ACMH Hospital Foundation, Armstrong School District, UPMC Health Plan, Children's Community Pediatrics (Armstrong), and the County of Armstrong.

"The coordination of key community stakeholders has helped us make gradual changes that assist children and their families in making healthier food choices and increasing their physical activity levels," says Harold Altman, MD, Chief Medical Officer of ACMH Hospital. Dr. Altman, a pediatrician, is also a member of HEALTHY Armstrong's Executive Council.

The Executive Council includes one representative from each key partner organization and directs the efforts of the coalition. The Steering Committee, which includes the project director, school program coordinator, and representatives from all partner/community organizations, meets monthly to address key program details and to make sure their decisions follow the direction set by the Executive Council.

Armstrong School District has made gradual healthy changes to the food choices available in district schools. Changes include removing deep fryers from school cafeteria kitchens and removing soda pop from vending machines in student areas. School-based programs include daily morning exercises and after-school activities that include parents. The district incorporates the National Institutes of Health's We Can!TM program, an easy-to-use wellness program for parents and teachers.

A community-wide campaign, Healthy Recipe of the Week, has engaged families throughout Armstrong County by helping residents understand the importance of proper food choices, nutritional content, and portion control. At several grocery stores throughout the county, weekly recipes are featured in a prominent grocery display and provided to residents so they have easy access to healthy food choices.

"This event helps parents make changes to their family diet, which is important to the overall mission of the HEALTHY Armstrong collaborative," explains Michael Culyba, M.D., Vice President, Medical Affairs, at UPMC Health Plan, and an Executive Council member.

In July 2009, HEALTHY Armstrong gained national recognition when Congresswoman Kathy Dahlkemper (PA-3) introduced legislation — Healthy Communities Act of 2009 — that is modeled after the HEALTHY Armstrong collaborative. Through public-private partnerships, this legislation will offer grants to community organizations that develop programs to help residents live a healthier lifestyle.

For more information about HEALTHY Armstrong , contact Kay Owen, Project Director, at (724) 543-8580 or owenk@acmh.org or visit www.healthyarmstrong.com.

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