FitWorth: An Obesity Impact Plan That Works

by Leslie Casey

When Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price decided she wanted to focus some of her passion for biking and her vision for having young leaders shape the progress and culture in her city, I’m not sure she could imagine the results: nearly 27,000 kids having a greater awareness of their own healthy behaviors, a pilot school cafeteria program serving kale chips and hummus wraps, and big employers like Oncor being involved. Or maybe she did.

Government officials around the United States are recognizing the link between high obesity rates and the vitality of a city or region. Leaders in Fort Worth certainly realize a healthy hometown is dependent on the near-term and sustainable choices made to reverse obesity trends.

The Playing Field

Tarrant County outpaces the state obesity rate (31.7 percent) with its 33.6 percent obesity rate among adults. In 2009, the percentage was 25.7—amplifying the fact that the region is losing ground faster than ever before. Fitnessgram data shows that 50 percent of the 81,000 children in the largest school district in the city, the Fort Worth ISD, are overweight or obese. Our children represent our future and the need to halt the upward trend of obesity is urgent.

Several things were top of mind for the mayor and project lead City Councilman Dennis Shingleton (District 7) as they gathered an advisory board of experts to develop the FitWorth Healthy City Initiative. First, the plan had to be actionable with significant success within a short timeframe. Second, the physical activities and nutrition messages needed to be family-focused (involving both kids and parents).  In addition, the plan elements had to be inclusive and broad reaching (community-wide, not specific to one zip code or neighborhood).

During the past decade, quite a bit has been researched, developed and promoted in regards to impacting obesity and there are multiple organizations playing essential roles. Fort Worth was decidedly a prime target for change, especially with a champion like Betsy Price, but there was good reason to avoid recreating the wheel. So another mantra became that any plan for the city would promote existing resources, building on top of what is already producing success.

The advisory committee charged with creating FitWorth’s plan includes representatives from Aetna, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, Cook Children’s Healthcare Network, Cowtown Marathon, Fort Worth City Council, Fort Worth Independent School District, Live Healthy America, Texas Health Resources, Oncor and UNT Health Science Center.

Timing is Everything

The advisors and Councilman Shingleton outlined an impact plan within just several months after their first meeting, recruited several key vendor partners, acquired funding and worked out a launch event. As luck would have it, the September 15 launch of FitWorth at the YMCA and Cowtown CALF Trinity Trot Run coincided with National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month and came at the culmination of Texas Obesity Awareness Week. Without stated intent, the impact plan created by the committee followed the guiding principles of Stanford’s Collective Impact model, began programs that aligned with the Prevention Institute’s Spectrum of Prevention and will ultimately accomplish all five recommendations from the May 2012 IOM study, “Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention.”

The committee was able to align with key partners like Oncor, which has committed funding for two years.  Live Healthy America provides a technology infrastructure, measurement tool and employer engagement platform. FWISD accepted the daunting task of deploying multiple initiatives with existing staff. Community organizations like the YMCA and Arthritis Foundation are employing the FitWorth brand “seal of approval” in an effort to expand message reach. Lastly, NBC5 and Telemundo as media partners not only produced television commercials, but highlight initiative activities online, in the news, through PSAs and via an HD network show that airs monthly.

The FitWorth story highlights the rare and perfect intersection of well-researched prevention structures, passion, leadership, cooperation, and agility.

FitWorth Defined

Here’s how the program matches up with the Institutes of Medicine’s recommendations for accelerating progress in obesity prevention:

  • Integrate physical activity every day in every way.

FitWorth contributes to this goal by partnering and promoting existing outdoor events like walks, runs, bike rides, and even triathlons. The brand created by the FitWorth team lends a nod of approval from the City, the Mayor, and the Advisory Board to anyone who proudly displays it on event materials. In addition the Mayor has included it in her weekly Fall bike rides and winter community walks from November to April.

  • Market what matters for a healthy life.

In addition to the mass media brand awareness ads, FitWorth is developing a window decal program for retailers and restaurants. Companies who qualify with a healthy menu option or who sell active lifestyle items can proudly display the FitWorth logo and become easily recognizable as a choice in the right direction.

  • Make healthy foods and beverages available everywhere.

Another key initiative for Mayor Price was the integration of leaders under 40 years of age in city issues. That effort, called SteerFW, identified four focus areas, one of which was education, specifically nutrition in education. “Food for Thought Fort Worth” is the resulting pilot program at one elementary school in FWISD to re-design the cafeteria menu to offer free and reduced program participants with healthy lunch options. In addition, the program has asked the school to switch recess and lunch, eliminate strawberry (pink) milk from the menu, and host monthly parent dinners to help translate the new food habits into the home. This initiative is collaborating with FitWorth as an official activity.

  • Activate employers and health care professionals.

In March 2013, the Mayor and City Manager will unveil an initiative to integrate activity into the work day of all City employees. Details will be announced at the State of the City address where the Mayor will challenge other employers to implement similar policies. In addition, Live Healthy America, which has provided FitWorth with a technology infrastructure and weekly teacher communications for our children’s programs, provides prime opportunities for employers in Fort Worth to join the health movement and engage adults in similar challenges to set the example for children.

  • Strengthen schools as the heart of health.

FitWorthKids has been a structured challenge for all third through eighth graders in FWISD. During the eight-week program, 26,800 kids reported to their PE teachers about daily minutes of activity, as well as fruit and vegetable consumption and water intake. The challenge created multiple teachable moments and reminded kids constantly of recommended goals for 60 min. of activity, five fruits and vegetables and eight glasses of water daily. The school with the highest daily average minutes of activity is being awarded $1,000 in PE equipment.

Maintaining the Fury

The ultimate test will be to sustain the storm of activity generated by the launch of this city-wide initiative. Flexibility, sound measurement, and creative ideas will be the fuel. Involving a comprehensive mix of employers, schools, community organizations, churches, and retailers will be the engine behind success. As the FitWorth team intended, the momentum of change is being propelled at multiple points across the spectrum of a child’s environment. The educational encounters will be reinforced.

As the initiative moves forward, organizers know that being a healthy city will need to transcend the reign of one administration. As Mayor Price says, being a healthy city is worth it!

About FitWorth Healthy City Initiative: FitWorth is a family-focused initiative of Mayor Betsy Price and the Fort Worth City Council launched in September 2012 to address the growing trend of childhood obesity in the city.  In 2014, FitWorth became an independent program of Foundation for Wellness, Texas, tasked with promoting health and active lifestyles through an individualized and sustainable approach to community wellness.

Release date: 
November 14th, 2012