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Here's What Fort Worth, TX Is Doing Very Right To Promote Healthy Kids

If it's Fort Worth, Texas, it takes action "the Fort Worth Way." That is, through a grass-roots, public-private partnership of engaged civic leadership, the business community and volunteers determined to solve problems collaboratively.
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Answer by Jean Tips, Health communicator, wellness advocate, certificate holder in Lifestyle Health, on Quora.

If it's Fort Worth, Texas, it takes action "the Fort Worth Way." That is, through a grass-roots, public-private partnership of engaged civic leadership, the business community and volunteers determined to solve problems collaboratively. The non-profit organization, funded entirely by corporate and foundation donations, is called the FitWorth Healthy City Initiative.

It's really a movement to create families who are healthier and whose lives are richer through programs designed for increased behavioral awareness and role model empowerment.

The "secret sauce" to FitWorth--and its differentiation-combines:
  • a committed, highly involved mayor
  • corporate funding from businesses and foundations that value employee health
  • a highly cooperative independent school district with strong physical fitness and culinary training leadership
  • passionate volunteers
  • generous media partners
  • user-friendly tracking technology and
  • an ability to make an immediate and sustainable "boots-on-the-ground" impact in the daily habits of children and families.
With this in place, and the understanding that lifestyle health and behavior change takes time, small steps make a huge difference. Just three years after its launch, FitWorth impacts nearly 30,000 people annually through programs themed "Fuel," "Work," and "Play." Even more impressive than the participation rate is the bottom-line impact.

The Fort Worth Independent School Distict's FitnessGram statistics, the official assessment of the Presidential Youth Fitness Program, show a three-percent improvement in reducing the number of obese children in just two years.

The effort to improve the community's health kicked off in 2012, spearheaded by the city's First Lady of Fitness, Betsy Price (Mayor), an avid bicyclist and triathlete herself, Price understands the connection between children's health, adult productivity and the local economy. She and Councilmenber Dennis Shingleton gathered a multidisciplinary committee charged to build a program promoting healthy choices for children and families.

This committee is now being revamped into an advisory team representing a variety of needed expertise, led by a full-time Director and Board of Directors that will focus on governance and strategic planning to lead FitWorth forward.

Rather than starting from scratch, the program's first strategy was to promote the city's many existing healthy activities with the FitWorth brand, raising visibility for participation opportunities such as walks, rides and runs. This was achieved through a paid campaign with local media partners willing to add public service exposure beyond the buy. Primarily, this consisted of billboard and bus bench ads targeted to specific neighborhoods, and talk show interviews and spots on the local NBC/Telemundo affiliate in English and Spanish.

In addition, having the Mayor participate in these activities and having a FitWorth booth onsite with fun promotional items and information built brand awareness.

FitWorth leadership worked with a local advertising agency on a pro bono basis to conduct a comprehensive rebranding effort over the past year to fine-tune its messaging and identity.

Another first step was to involve the PE teachers across the Fort Worth ISD in a 10-week Fall Challenge for third- to fifth-graders that has come to be known fondly by the students as "The Mayor's Challenge." The PE teachers help students track their fruit and vegetable consumption as well as minutes of activity. At the end of the challenge, the mayor announces the winners during an assembly at the winning school and presents a small monetary donation toward new PE equipment, all of which gains coverage by local media.

With the learning now gained from several years conducting the school challenge, FitWorth leaders have shortened the challenge length to four weeks. This past Fall, participation totaled 20,055 children, and the FitWorth focus is on continuous program improvement and sustainability to make the most impact.

To maintain children's focus on healthy choices, another tracking challenge takes place during the summer months at the city's 22 community centers, this challenge is four weeks long and the kids track activity, fruit and vegetable consumption and optionally, sleep, screen time and water intake. In addition, there is a poster contest at the centers for young artists to encourage adults to make healthier choices. Winning posters are displayed at local corporations involved in FitWorth worksite programming. Mayor Price conducts periodic "drop-ins" at the centers to participate in movement activities with the kids and to reinforce the programmatic messages and city commitment.

Celebrity sports figures have also made special appearances at FitWorth "Play" events, including professional football players Jason Whitten, DeMarcus Ware and Ladanian Tomlinson. The Fort Worth Vaqueros FC, Fort Worth's professional soccer team, has also stepped up to help.

To assist the underserved areas of the community, FitWorth provides grants to children to participate in fitness activities such as The Cowtown C.A.L.F. Run and Fort Worth Zoo Run.

A culinary competition has been added for high school students enrolled in the district's culinary training programs. Teams of young chefs are charged to create healthy meals, a challenge which culminates in a cook-off at The Cowtown Marathon's special Fall C.A.L.F. (Children's Activities for Life and Fitness) Run for children. Judging is conducted by local celebrity chefs and dignitaries. Winners receive new cooking knives, aprons and are featured in a local charity food sampling event. Recipes are gathered in a cookbook.

Work with the local restaurant association to establish special FitWorth-approved menu items was merged into the Fort Worth Blue Zones Project designation plan. However, a FitWorth restaurant crawl takes place in the spring, timed to an adult corporate challenge, which engages local restaurants throughout the city in highlighting their healthiest existing menu items, based on the standards required for the high-school culinary competition. Each restaurant can choose an appetizer, entrée, or dessert, and the design of the crawl encourages walkability and bikeability, so that participants can move more while enjoying a progressive meal.

Recognizing that children's healthy choices involve parents and other adult caretakers and family members, FitWorth established a Corporate Challenge. Similar to the Mayor's Challenge, employees of local businesses are encouraged to track their minutes of activity over a six-week period.

Companies compete against other companies, and can request Mayor Price to attend a "Fit15" onsite walk with their employees. The first year, Mayor Price even accepted a challenge from the City of Des Moines, Iowa, for an additional city-versus-city competition element. Fort Worth won, and the trophy was presented at a Fort Worth City Council meeting. Participation in the Corporate Challenge doubled in its second year, with a 59-percent increase in participation.

Next Steps
FitWorth leadership has worked from the start to find the best technology to track all of the challenges. IT solutions provide the tools families and communities need to successfully change their culture. FitWorth has learned its requirements for tracking have expanded beyond existing offerings and has worked to innovatively leverage a free tracking platform as a partnership tool with other organizations, such as the YMCA in Fort Worth.

Community interest has blossomed, and new program elements and partnerships are being added strategically. For example, the mayor's Tour de Fort Worth, a 21-day challenge for cyclists to ride each day and accumulate miles and friends along the way, is now a FitWorth project. The local medical school's pediatrics department has requested FitWorth partner with them on developing an exercise "Playscription" prescription for children. A mobile food market is also under consideration.

The leadership continues to determine unmet community needs that align with the FitWorth mission, determine funding strategies, strengthen its brand differentiation, plan for sustainability and deepen its impact.

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