The following examples illustrate the efforts among community partners to combat childhood obesity by providing places where children and adolescents can safely engage in physical activity. Most importantly, these success stories provide concrete examples of how we’re engaging families, educators, health professionals, community groups, policymakers and business leaders to make Duval County a healthy place for our children.

 

Jacksonville Arboretum and Gardens

To do its part to address childhood obesity and related chronic health problems, the Jacksonville Arboretum and Gardens created the “Step Out in Nature” program, a friendly competition among public elementary schools in Arlington to see who could document and record the most steps in the Arboretum. In its first year, 400 students registered in the competition directly through school field trips led by Step Out in Nature guides, health and nature walks led by Arboretum volunteers, or through hikes completed with their own families and friends. Thus, the total number of people who actually walked because of the program was much larger than the registered number of students. Competition among the schools led to increased participation in the program, as students, principals, teachers and parent-teacher organizations at the competing schools helped drive enthusiasm. Visiting students were observed planning trail routes for maximum steps (and thus maximum health benefits). By the end of the competition, the online tally revealed an amazing 1.8 million steps logged in the Arboretum, bringing together a community and instilling the concept of walking for both good health and exposure to nature.

 

SORBA JAX

In 2010, the Southern Off Road Bicycle Association (SORBA JAX) began working with the City of Jacksonville to improve the trails at Hanna Park. The volunteer-run organization dedicated hundreds of hours over the past two years to repair eroding hills and trails and construct a new, safe bridge across a creek. The group also developed and implemented alternating days’ riding directions, which offer variety to riders and helps stabilize the trails.

Recently, in partnership with outdoor recreation supply company REI, SORBA JAX completed additional miles of trail at Hanna Park. All of this work together has resulted in three loops throughout the park that offer safe areas for people to ride, exercise and be outdoors. Today, SORBA JAX continues to promote land access, trail preservation and new trail development at Hanna Park and Tillie K. Fowler Park. The group plans to expand awareness of their sport, including programs to introduce children to the safety needs and environmental sensitivity associated with this active outdoor lifestyle.

 Northeast Florida School for Special Education

“Fit For Fun” at Northeast Florida School for Special Education (NFSSE) offers a variety of after-school programs, such as walking, swimming and yoga, to keep students in shape and focused on maintaining healthy habits. Its signature program, the Never Say Never Running Club, begins in the fall with a twice-a-week training program for Jacksonville’s Gate River Run, the largest 15K race in the nation. The students on the Never Say Never Running Team set a goal to complete the Gate River Run 5K or the full 15K. Though not always an easy process, the students learn how to achieve fitness and weight loss goals with strength, perseverance and positive energy. On race day, the Never Say Never runners gain a sense of camaraderie and confidence as they cheer each other on. Prior to the most difficult portion of the race, the approximate one-mile crossing of the Hart Bridge over the St. Johns River, the team huddles to recommit to each other. All of the runners agree not to stop until everyone makes it over the bridge and over the finish line – if one person needs to slow down, they all slow down and finish together.

 

Increased Physical Activity Through

Safer Routes to School

In 2010, middle-school students at Julia Landon College Preparatory Academy (JLCPA) located in the San Marco neighborhood worked with government representatives to conduct an environmental survey of the area within a one-mile radius of the school. The survey revealed missing sidewalks, deficient signage at intersections, a lack of designated cross walks and bike lanes, and unmarked school zones—all characteristics that make walking and biking to school unsafe. Children tend to be more physically active when they live in neighborhoods that are walkable as well as safe. Armed with a Department of Transportation grant resulting from the environmental survey, the JLCPA community is working to improve pedestrian and bicycle routes within a one- to two-mile radius of the school. The program envisions connected sidewalks, safe crosswalks, reduced vehicle speed and proper traffic signalization. In addition, students receive health and safety curriculum that reinforces the importance of healthy and active living through responsible urban design practices.

 

The Shannon Miller Running Club

Inspired by her passion for physical activity and seeing the rise in childhood obesity, Olympic athlete Shannon Miller began the Shannon Miller Running Club in 2007. Designed to increase physical activity among middle-school students, the Running Club encourages children to engage in physical activity for 30 minutes a day over a period of 12 weeks. In recognition of their commitment to fitness, the children are rewarded with colorful tokens at varying milestones. The initial pilot program engaged 500 children who ran more than 10,000 miles in 12 weeks. In addition to fitness, the Running Club fosters a positive environment where children receive praise and encouragement for their athleticism, as well as for developing leadership skills. More than 3,000 students have participated in the Shannon Miller Running Club since 2009.

 

First Coast YMCA Youth Fit For Life

Teaching healthy behaviors involving physical activity and nutrition are the cornerstones to preventing obesity in children and adolescents. The YMCA incorporates Youth Fit For Life (YFFL) into its curriculum – a physical activity and healthy behavior change program specifically designed for elementary-age students. The program consists of cardiovascular exercise three times per week in the form of noncompetitive activities and cooperative games, and resistance training using bands two times per week, as well as interactive, age-appropriate behavioral skills training, such as goal setting, progress feedback and facilitative self-talk. The program is offered as part of the YMCA’s PrYme Time curriculum, which was established to meet the needs of working parents in our community while providing children with a fun, safe and enriching environment.