This week, PreventObesity.net had the pleasure of talking to Meghan Bown, Community Health Director with Get Fit Itasca―an organization making great strides toward improving the health of Minnesotans. Let’s dive right in with Meghan, and if you want to know more about her or her work you can contact her through her PreventObesity.net Leader profile here.
Name: Meghan Bown
Title: Community Health Director
Organization: Get Fit Itasca
What inspired you to start working on childhood obesity?
I did not know much about childhood obesity when I first started working in my position, almost six years ago. However, my eyes were opened very quickly to many statistics. The one that stands out to me the most is that this generation of children could be the first generation to live shorter, less healthy lives if we continue our behavior in eating poorly and being inactive. At the time my daughter was 2 months old, and I knew that I did not want that for my child, let alone anyone else’s.
What’s your biggest accomplishment so far in helping reduce childhood obesity?
I take the most pride in my work with Deer River King Elementary School. Deer River School District has an amazing staff of individuals that communicate well, are innovative, and truly put what is good for the kids before whatever amount of work it takes to achieve a goal. For the past four years we have successfully implemented a Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Grant Program and leveraged it to further increase healthy opportunities in the school and community. Each day every student receives a fresh fruit or vegetable for a snack. The teachers give a brief lesson on the snack’s health benefits, and then ask the children if they like it or not. This information goes back to the school food service department where they use it in their menu writing, basing which fruits and veggies are being served on what the kids reported liking.
In addition, each week the Community Education Coordinator connects with food service and two local grocery stores to let them know what items are being served that week. The local stores hang signs next to that produce in the store that reads: “Your King Elementary Student might have had this snack at school this week. Ask them if they liked it, take some home and try it as a family.” Also, a monthly newsletter goes home to each family telling about the kids’ most popular food choices with recipes on how parents can prepare them at home.
Our biggest take home from this project comes from the teachers and parents. The teachers report that having the snack in the classroom makes it more about education and less about the food itself. If every child is trying the item there is no peer pressure about what are perceived as the “cool foods” and the “not so cool foods,” and now the children know what fruits and vegetables they really do like. Also, many families in the school are on fixed budgets. Parents have reported that they no longer have to guess and waste money throwing out something that their child will not eat―now the children request the fresh items that they enjoy most. The grocery stores have reported a higher turnover on the produce that is featured each week.
Who is your role model in your work?
I would have to say the kids are my role models, especially the elementary kids. Most certainly my own children!
What healthy snacks did you enjoy growing up?
My parents always had a bowl of fresh fruit on the counter. I had an endless supply of produce that was either prepared in the fridge or ready to grab on the way by. I never realized what a luxury that really was.
What game or sport did you play growing up?
I lived in a neighborhood with tons of kids. We would ride bikes, build forts, skate or sled depending on the season. Most of our summer days and afternoons were spent out just being in the neighborhood.
Each week, our own Prarthana Gurung speaks with a Leader to get a quicj look at why he or she loves working to create healthy environments for kids. Want to take part? Visit Prarthana's profile and contact her.