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Fighting Childhood Obesity, Cuyahoga County Initiative Launches Wellness Plan

Cathy Schreiber of the Children's Museum of Cleveland grabs a microphone and asks everyone to stand.

"What if you were a kernel?," she asks. The audience made up of dozens of adults shuffles on their feet. 

"How would you act?" Schreiber says. "C'mon."

There's uncomfortable laughter and the audience begins to join in, waving their arms, bending over and, eventually, laughing all the more.

"There you go!" Schreiber says.

This is the kind of imaginary play leaders of the newly launched Cuyahoga County Early Childhood Wellness Planhope child care providers, preschools and social service agencies will incorporate into the daily lives of children age 0-5.

Alison Patrick, a program manager with the county's board of health and a co-chair on the 24-member task force that created the plan, says it is the first true county-wide initiative with set goals to fight obesity. The plan, she says, goes beyond the traditional focus on education.

"We get very good at telling people you know you need to eat five fruits and vegetables a day and you need to go walk for 60 minutes. But there was never really this thought of, well, do they have the ability to do that?" Patrick asks.

The initiative was convened by Cuyahoga County's Board of Health, the Mt. Sinai Health Care Foundation, Saint Luke's Foundation, Starting Point and Invest in Children.

Detailed in a 31-page report, the plan calls for child care centers and agencies to adopt specific healthy eating and physical activity standards.  Under the themes of infant feeding, healthy foods, daily physical activity, and family wellness, there are set goals for a certain number of centers and agencies to begin using the provided techniques within one year. Those techniques include actions like encouraging children to drink water rather than sugary drinks and promoting physical activity by limiting screen time.

Patrick says the plan will be reviewed by the task force annually and goals will be updated. Once a center or agency achieves the goals, it will be given a banner and promotional material to hand out to families. Already, nine centers are ready to fly the banner, Patrick says.

Story by Sarah Jane Tribble