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Partnership teaches students about healthy behaviors

Two years ago the community-U-M collaborative Project Healthy Schools partnered with Free the Children's Life in Action to study the effect of self-efficacy skills on improving health risks and reducing obesity.
Local students also have raised money to fund clean water and sustainable income projects in impoverished communities around the world. (Photo courtesy Julie Nelson)

In the process of learning about healthy eating, active lifestyles and social responsibility, Ann Arbor students from Clague, Scarlett and Tappan middle schools have raised more than $40,000 to help build schools, such as a renovated building in Sierra Leone, and to fund clean-water and sustainable-income projects in impoverished communities around the world.

"The remarkable achievements of the students involved in the Life in Action clubs make it clear that young people can make a difference in their community and the world," says Jean DuRussel-Weston, Project Healthy Schools' program manager. "We're betting the data will show that these empowered young people also are making healthier choices in their own lives, as well as influencing those around them to make healthier choices."

This partnership between Project Healthy Schools and Life in Action is in the final year of a three-year study to determine whether providing students with self-efficacy training can increase Project Healthy Schools' already measurable success in reducing health risk factors.
Ann Arbor students from Clague, Scarlett and Tappan Middle Schools have raised more than $40,000 to help build schools, such as a renovated school in Sierra Leone. (Photo courtesy Julie Nelson)

The Project Healthy Schools program was piloted in Ann Arbor's Clague Middle School in 2004. The program now teaches sixth-graders in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Corunna and Owosso public schools, as well as two charter schools in Detroit. Project Healthy Schools encourages healthy habits through education, environment and measurement. Participating schools have achieved measurable success in lowering cholesterol and increasing healthy behaviors.

Dr. Kim Eagle, founder of Project Healthy Schools and director of the Cardiovascular Center, suggested partnering with Life in Action after learning about the program from his friend Veronica Atkins, founder of the Robert C. and Veronica Atkins Foundation. Life in Action teaches students self-efficacy through healthy eating, active lifestyles and socially responsible actions.

"We discovered that both programs shared a common goal of empowering young people with the knowledge to make healthy choices throughout their lives," Eagle says. "By partnering, we saw an opportunity to test the effect of self-efficacy skills on changing health behaviors and improving health risk factors."

Atkins agreed to have her foundation fund the study, which now is in Clague, Scarlett and Tappan middle schools. Life in Action clubs are active at each school. Club members lead their peers in activities designed to give back to the local and global communities. Since 2008 students in these schools have:

• Raised more than $40,000 for building schools, and providing clean water and funding sustainable-income projects in Sierra Leone and Ecuador.

• Collected 400,000 pennies for Darfur.

• Produced the "Don't Care?" awareness raising videos and public service announcements.

• Organized healthy fundraisers like a 1-mile fun run/walk and "Less Junk in Your Trunk," a healthy, creative recipe contest.

• Volunteered at local community food banks.

Project Healthy Schools tracks the students' progress by conducting surveys and biometric screenings. Researchers plan to use the data to determine if students who take part in Life in Action clubs and programs experience a decrease in health risk factors and an increase in healthy behaviors, compared with students who do not participate.

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