11:05 AM

Preventing Childhood Obesity Is a Team Sport


With cooking classes, grocery store visits, golf lessons and more, Horizon BCBSNJ and its community partners are standing up to this serious epidemic in more ways than ever.

By Jonathan Pearson, Executive Director, Horizon Foundation of New Jersey

Limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Not enough physical activity. A lack of awareness around the importance of a healthy lifestyle.

These are just a few of the reasons why the rate of childhood obesity continues to increase in New Jersey. According to a recent report by The Commonwealth Fund, New Jersey ranks 43rd in the nation for children who are overweight or obese. The issue remains a challenge for many children and can lead to a range of behavioral and physical problems, including high blood pressure and diabetes.

“The statistics are startling,” said Darrin Anderson, executive director of the New Jersey YMCA State Alliance. “In New Jersey, one out of three children born after the year 2000 is at risk for type 2 diabetes.”

For more than 10 years, New Jersey YMCA State Alliance and Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey have collaborated to create Healthy U, an initiative that helps prevent obesity in children by encouraging physical activity and delivering nutrition education.

It is one of more than 20 programs that Horizon BCBSNJ funds through the Horizon Foundation for New Jersey to tackle childhood obesity across the state. Through these programs, children are getting more opportunities to get outside, get moving and learn about healthy living. Additional innovative Horizon Foundation for NJ community partnerships include:

  • Rutgers University Foundation. College and professional athletes with ties to Rutgers will be trained on basic nutrition, proper physical training, strength and skills development; and then serve as mentors to four high schools in the greater New Brunswick area.
  • The mentors will share their knowledge with nearly 5,000 high school students who will participate in a skills challenge that includes physical activities, nutrition and health knowledge competitions.
  • The First Tee of Essex County. This program provides 500 at-risk and economically disadvantaged youth from Newark and Hillside with the opportunity to learn and play golf while teaching them about good nutrition, physical activity and athletic achievement.
  • Through the program, participants will get at least eight miles of walking or running per day, receive lessons in meal preparation, take part in grocery store visits and undergo health evaluations.
  • Philip’s Education Partners. The program will launch a mobile food literacy lab to teach children and their families in Newark, East Orange, Irvington and Paterson about food, nutrition and wellness through hands-on activities and exhibits. The goal is to serve 10,000 students and 3,000 parents and teachers annually.

Kids participating in physical activity through the Healthy U program.

Helping organizations like New Jersey YMCA State Alliance put children and family first is one of Horizon BCBSNJ’s main priorities. By educating children on healthy living habits at a young age, Horizon BCBSNJ and its partners are working to reduce the incidence of chronic illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes. These conditions have a tremendous impact on a person’s quality of life and contribute to rising healthcare costs. By focusing on prevention, Horizon BCBSNJ is working to turn the tide on the obesity epidemic.

“Horizon's commitment to New Jersey is improving the overall health of the community with respect to quality, access to care and appropriate use of services,” said Paul Alexander, MD, MPH, vice president, chief medical officer for government programs at Horizon, who has championed community-based partnerships for years.

Whether a family bike ride around the neighborhood or switching from soda to water during dinner, it’s the little changes that can make a big impact. Horizon BCBSNJ and its community partners are here to support incorporating these small changes for a healthier community.