College of


Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and MSU College of Human Medicine conclude first year of "FIT" initiative

July 20, 2010

FIT partnership video

Cesar Chavez FIT video

Collaborative obesity project continues efforts to improve children's health 

Children from four Grand Rapids schools started off the summer focusing on their health, thanks in part to a $1 million grant to the MSU College of Human Medicine from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Project “FIT,” a childhood obesity prevention program funded through the grant from the Blues, is arming students from Grand Rapids' Campus, Buchanan, Cesar E. Chavez and Dickinson elementary schools with some new tools to practice healthier lifestyles.

Last year, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and the College of Human Medicine collaborated with the Grand Rapids Public Schools to develop the health initiative.

“GRPS is fully aware of the importance of comprehensive school health education. We support the FIT program in order to combat the threat of obesity in our schools and beyond so that we can fulfill our mission to ensure all students are educated, self-directed and productive members of a healthy society,” says Kurt Johnson, Director of Athletics, Physical Education and Alternative Education for GRPS.

FIT uses a multi-faceted approach, collaborating with schools’ staff, families and community organizations to help establish a social “culture” embracing lifestyles that help sustain healthy weight and wellness.

“Blue Cross Blue Shield is leading Michigan to a healthier future. Our investment in this Grand Rapids community gives families the opportunity to improve their health status,” said Jeff Connolly, BCBSM’s President of West Michigan Operations & Managed Care. “Teaching children about healthy lifestyles empowers them to take care of themselves and learn habits that will improve quality of life and reduce the risk of chronic illness.”

The key objectives for FIT are to:

1) Promote a healthy lifestyle by exposing schools and their surrounding communities to healthy foods and physical activities

2) Improve the basic knowledge and attitudes about the value of physical health and nutrition 

3) Partner with existing health and fitness programs to increase impact

“There is a lot of attention around childhood obesity and there are many programs and intiatives already in place in Grand Rapids,” said Marsha D. Rappley, MD, dean of MSU College of Human Medicine. “This project is attempting to work with those efforts in a collaborative manner and combine evidence-based approaches. The first year was spent establishing the program in the four schools and learning as much as we could about the neighborhoods through a community assessment.  The community groups we work with, including the YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids, MSUE, Neighborhood Ventures, Local First, Lighthouse Communities, Grand Valley State University and others, along with community residents have helped us identify many of the barriers and challenges to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.”

The implementation phase of the three-year project began in the fall of 2009.  Throughout the course of the 2009-2010 school year, Project FIT made significant headway. Each of the schools involved with the program facilitated various events to promote health and wellness to their students. For instance, Campus Elementary partnered with the YMCA to put on a health and fitness fair, promoting fun and engaging aspects of healthy living to students. Other schools such as Cesar E. Chavez conducted a series of workshops to educate parents and students on the importance of nutrition, with help from the YMCA’s Nutrition in Action Program.

Additional accomplishments of the FIT program include coaching students to make healthier choices in the cafeteria; implementing the Lunch through Literacy Programs, which encompasses a series of sessions focusing primarily on making healthier food choices by reading ingredient labels on foods and utilizing fresh, in-season vegetables. The schools also encouraged parents and students to participate in FIT program assessments, which received a great deal of positive feedback.

With a first year of accomplishments under its belt, the FIT team has already begun strategizing for the upcoming school year. Schools intend to hold staff training events to share ideas on how teachers, students, parents and staff can continue to work toward the goal of becoming healthier and more physically active. New curricula and training materials will also be distributed for teachers to implement into their class schedules for the upcoming school year. As FIT moves into its second phase of implementation, healthy eating, physical activity and a greater awareness of healthy lifestyle choices will be on the top of the priority list. Community engagement and collaboration will continue to be a priority.