HCSC’s WiseGuys Tackle Childhood Obesity
Meet Hardy Heart. He’s a wise guy … an OrganWise guy, and his job is to help foster health-conscious youth.
Childhood obesity is a chronic problem, with 32% of children today considered overweight. Obesity at all ages has dire implications for individual health, creating an enormous strain on healthcare costs. Individuals, employers, and communities are all impacted by the costs, both financial and personal, of obesity.
In 2006, Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC) piloted a school-based program to teach children to make positive choices that help them take care of their own bodies.
Using imaginative and humorous characters based on the organs of the body, the HCSC OrganWiseGuys Community Outreach program inspires children to follow four rules: “low fat, high fiber, lots of water, exercise!”
The OrganWise Guys program is correlated with school standards in each of the states in which HCSC does business as the local Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plan. HCSC funds the OrganWise Guys core kit for elementary schools with at least a 50% free lunch participation. The kit includes books, videos, interactive games, and an OrganWise doll, available in various ethnicities.
HCSC wanted to invest in a program that showed results. The company piloted the OrganWise Guys program in Texas with 20 schools. It was received so well by teachers and civic leaders that the program was expanded to four other states. Comprehensive research based on a four-year study showed statistically significant improvements in weight and blood pressure measures, as well as in test scores, of children participating in OWG program schools.
Teachers embrace the program because it is easy to integrate into the classroom, often coming up with creative ways to incorporate OWG characters into lesson plans, such as organizing school plays around the characters or holding poster competitions.
Moreover, because the OWG collaboration works with the state’s Land Grant University Extension program, teachers can earn matching dollars from the USDA Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program to ensure long-term sustainability of the program.
The HCSC OWG program comes with Wisercise, which incorporates physical activity into the classroom, as well as a Foods of the Month kit, which works with the school cafeteria to promote nutrient-dense foods. Foods of the Month resulted from research that demonstrated statistically significant changes in children’s BMI percentile when cafeteria changes were integrated with classroom education though the OrganWise guys characters. Foods of the Month also includes newsletters and other materials for parents.
The true power of the OrganWise Guys program lies in community collaborations. The central collaboration is between HCSC and the Extension University SNAP-Ed programs; however, each state has developed additional partners — including health clinics, tribal health programs, hospitals, health departments, foodbanks, summer feeding programs, and foundations – to respond to the needs in their communities. The goal in every case is to work creatively with other organizations to reduce the rate of childhood obesity and instill habits of thought and behavior that will last a life time.
Statistically significant differences between treatment groups were found with respect to improvements in body mass index (BMI) percentiles and weight, as well as systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Additionally, children benefitting from the OrganWise Guys program achieved higher average standardized math and reading scores as compared to children in control schools.
These health and academic improvements were especially strong among low-income, minority children.
The research data is compelling, but of equal importance is the opportunity to build effective collaborations in diverse communities. Each of HCSC’s states has different demographics and community needs. The flexibility of the OWG program allows for each partnership to grow organically and be fully responsive to local needs.