College of

News Archive (2009)

MSU lands $1 million grant to tackle childhood obesity in West Michigan

Augusut 05, 2009

Michigan State University College of Human Medicine is teaming up with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Grand Rapids Public Schools to lead a $1 million health initiative to reduce childhood obesity by increasing physical activity, improving nutrition and collaborating with school staff and parents.

The FIT initiative, funded by Blue Cross Blue Shield, will focus on four elementary schools and surrounding neighborhoods in Grand Rapids. The program, working with community organizations, seeks to increase access to safe and affordable physical activities, improve the affordability and availability of nutritious food, and increase knowledge, attitudes and behaviors associated with healthy living.

“Childhood obesity is a growing public health problem,” said Marsha D. Rappley, dean of the College of Human Medicine, which is coordinating the effort for MSU. “We know that children who are obese have an increased likelihood of being obese adults, and obesity has been shown to increase the risk of several serious diseases. This pilot program addresses this issue on several levels.”

Obesity, which costs the nation nearly $150 billion a year according to federal statistics, increases risks for heart disease, hypertension, chronic disease and some forms of cancer. Beginning this fall, FIT will be introduced in four Grand Rapids elementary schools: Buchanan, Cesar Chavez, Campus and Dickinson. 

“A student's physical health and well-being plays an important role in their ability to learn and succeed academically,” said Bernard Taylor Jr., superintendent of Grand Rapids Schools. “We believe that in order to keep children in school, reduce absences and increase student achievement, our schools must work in partnership with like-minded public and private partners to address the factors and remove any barriers that may inhibit student success.”

Several researchers and professors from across the MSU campus — including principal investigator Denise Holmes and project coordinator Tracy Thompson from the Institute for Health Care Studies and research coordinator Deanne Kelleher from the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition — are taking part in the initiative:

  • Katherine Alaimo of the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition and Joe Carlson of the Department of Radiology will be leading the nutritional component. The focus will be on creating a culture of nutrition in the schools, Alaimo said. That will include incorporating nutrition education, having healthy eating coaches eat with schoolchildren and letting students taste test new, healthy foods.
  • Karin Pfeiffer and Joe Eisenmann of the Department of Kinesiology will be leading the physical activity component. Those efforts will include infusing 30 minutes of structured physical activity into each school day using innovative tools such as exercise DVDs and dance parties. The goal is to help students meet the federal guideline of 60 minutes of exercise each day.
  • Hye-Jin Paek of the Department of Advertising, Public Relations and Retailing will be leading the social marketing and branding component of the project. That will include raising awareness of the initiative among appropriate audiences through educational materials, advertisements and promotional items.

In addition to the work planned for the local schools, community members and organizations from across West Michigan will play a role in making the FIT initiative a success. Partners include the YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids,  Grand Valley State University Johnson Center Community Research Institute, Kent County MSU Extension Office, Kent County Coordinated School Health Program, Kent County Essential Needs Task Force Food Committee, Grand Rapids African American Health Institute, Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation Department, Spectrum Health Healthier Communities, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, Lighthouse Communities and the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce.

“Successful behavior change needs multiple levels of influence on individual behavior,” said Jeff Connolly, a vice president with Blue Cross Blue Shield. “Although there is no clear-cut solution to solving the obesity epidemic, a sustainable and comprehensive population-based approach for intervention may help address the root causes and curb the increasing trend of childhood obesity.”


Marsha Rappley, College of Human Medicine










Marsha D. Rappley, dean of the College of Human Medicine