Schaumburg agencies team up to fight childhood obesity

Updated 8/30/2011 5:08 AM

Amid startling information about obesity among its schoolchildren, a group of public and private Schaumburg-area organizations has formed to fight childhood obesity.

Among the ideas already being explored are getting school cafeterias and local fast-food restaurants to offer healthier choices rather than relying solely on traditional options like french fries and soda.

"This is about changing a policy system and environment," said Gary Bublitz, CEO of the Campanelli YMCA in Schaumburg. "That's what we intend to do. We want to help them see that we're in an epidemic right now."

He points to rising obesity rates in the nation and that today's children are looking at shorter life expectancies than their parents, despite significant advances in medicine.

The local group will bear the name Schaumburg CAN, which stands for Children -- Activity -- Nutrition.

The Campanelli Y is the main organizer of the campaign, using its share of a $6.8 million grant the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation awarded YMCA of the USA for its Pioneering Healthier Communities initiative.

The Schaumburg agencies will receive funding for two years for personnel training and the creation of a community action plan.

"This is not a YMCA initiative, this is a community initiative," Bublitz said. "Because the focus was on youth, we looked at youth-service agencies. (Schaumburg Township Elementary) District 54 was integral to get this done."

Once District 54 was on board, it was a lot easier and more logical to get other community agencies to join as well, he explained.

Other participants include the village of Schaumburg, Schaumburg Park District, Schaumburg Township, Harper College, the Alexian Brothers Hospital Network, Children's Home and Aid and the District 54 PTA Council.

Data provided by District 54 showed that 28 percent of last year's kindergartners, or 361 students, and 38 percent of last year's sixth graders, or 499 students, were overweight, based on the Body Mass Index (BMI) numbers provided by their doctors. Doctors define a BMI at or above the 85th percentile as overweight.

District 54 spokeswoman Terri McHugh said the goals of the new initiative are much more profound than just coming up with a list of talking points and symbolic events.

"If you have kids walk to school one day a year, that doesn't lead to a healthier child," she said. "What can we do to change the community -- not for one day -- but in its practices?"

Schaumburg already has a lot of advantages going for it, including a well-developed park district and bike path system, she said.

Bublitz likened Schaumburg CAN's hoped-for evolution into a self-sustaining entity to the practice of exercise itself: Once the initial aches and pains are past, it becomes a positive experience in its own right, he said.

Schaumburg was selected as one of only 16 communities in Illinois, Michigan and Ohio for the YMCA initiative this year -- receiving $12,000 for the planning involved in the first year. Though it hasn't been received yet, another $40,000 is expected for the implementation of that plan in year two.

YMCA of the USA is the resource office for all 2,687 YMCAs across the nation.

Schaumburg CAN's member agencies have several planned events that already tie into the new initiative:

•The village of Schaumburg's Septemberfest this weekend will include a Rotary-sponsored 5K and Kids Mile Fun Run on Monday, Sept. 5.

•G4K, the Schaumburg Park District's monthly television show taped with Whole Foods Market, will kick off its second season Sept. 14. The show features healthy snacks and exercise options for children ages 8 to 13.

•The Schaumburg Park District's Family Fun Night is a free event including structured and supervised sports from 6 to 8 p.m. Sept. 24 at the Sport Center.

•District 54 and the Campanelli Y's Run to Read is on Sept. 25.

•Walk to School Day is Sept. 29.

•The village of Schaumburg's Town Square Farmers Market will continue to run into the fall.