Best Health and Wellness Program: Health Care Service Corporation
HCSC: Working on Behalf of Children to Ensure a Healthy Future Through Access to Play
HCSC has partnered with KaBOOM! to build playgrounds in low-income areas, where increased access to outdoor activities has a positive impact on the health of children.
According to the CDC, childhood obesity in the U.S. has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years. As of 2013, 23.9 million children between the ages of two and 19 are overweight or obese.
Experts believe that overweight children are more likely to remain overweight as adults and will suffer a higher incidence of diabetes, heart disease, and other conditions. The total excess cost related to overweight/obese adolescents is an estimated $254 billion, according to the American Heart Association.
Instilling healthy lifestyle habits at an early age, including healthy eating and physical activity, can lower the risk of becoming obese and developing related diseases.
In 2010, Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC) began a strategic planning journey to better understand the challenges our communities face and develop programs to address those needs. This resulted in the establishment of Healthy Kids, Healthy Families (HKHF), a three-year initiative to meet the health and wellness needs of one million children across Illinois, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. This initiative invests in nonprofit organizations that offer sustainable, measurable programs in nutrition education, physical activity, disease prevention and management, and supporting safe environments.
As we reviewed potential partners for this project, we learned that only one out of five children in the U.S. lives within walking distance of a park or playground, and they are five times more likely to be a healthy weight than children without nearby playgrounds or parks. Also, in neighborhoods without a park or playground, the incidence of childhood obesity increases by 29 percent.
We recognized a clear link between access to play and the potential to reduce childhood obesity. Through our partnership with KaBOOM!, we helped create and expand access to play within the communities we serve.
What HCSC Has Accomplished
HCSC has partnered with national nonprofit KaBOOM! and youth-serving agencies to lead the design, planning, and all-volunteer construction of community playgrounds. Our work takes place in low-income neighborhoods exhibiting high child obesity rates.
For each new location, we start with “Design Day,” which allows kids, parents, and community leaders to design their dream playground. HCSC works alongside community volunteers on a grassroots campaign to raise matching funds, rally volunteers, and plan the project. Then on “Build Day,” KaBOOM! and about 200 HCSC employees and community volunteers construct the playground in one day, culminating in a powerful legacy for child and community health. Each playground gives more than 500 kids a place to be physically active over the next generation.
To make this project successful, we mobilize our customers and partners, health care providers and mayors to help lead the projects. We leverage our communications acumen, sports sponsorships, medical experts, and advertising to challenge citizens to join in promoting active play. Health data helps us to strategically prioritize project locations. HCSC employees and invited guests contribute more than 8,000 volunteer hours.
When each playground is completed, we encourage local kids to complete the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award Challenge by committing to being active for one hour a day, five days a week, for six out of eight consecutive weeks. Since implementing the program two years ago, more than 1,700 kids have completed the Challenge.
Why This Project Makes Sense
Since 2011, 20 playgrounds have been constructed, and they serve an estimated 34,811 children annually.
Northwestern University conducted a study that analyzed the impact on nine communities where our playgrounds were built in 2011. The research findings support the value of the playgrounds.
The study showed that 90 percent of adults believed local kids wanted to play more following the playground builds, and 96 percent of adults believed kids were getting more exercise as a result of the new playgrounds.