Hoping to sway kids to reach for carrot sticks instead of cookies, the University’s Cardiovascular Center is expanding its outreach to local middle schools with the help of a multithousand-dollar boost.

The Cardiovascular Center recently received a $232,000 grant that will be used to widen the center’s Project Healthy Schools — a program that teaches local sixth-graders about healthy lifestyles through a 12-week program.

The program is currently established in 13 locations in the Ann Arbor, Corunna, Detroit, Owosso and Ypsilanti school districts, and the grant will be used to fund students in lower income neighborhoods, according to Jean DuRussell-Weston, project manager for Project Healthy Schools.

“Our main goal is to reach students who live in underprivileged areas,” DuRussell-Weston said.

The grant was given to the center by the AstraZeneca Foundation — a Delaware-based non-profit that promotes awareness of various health issues. Through the school program, students learn about implementing healthy life practices, undergo wellness tests like having their blood pressure taken and keep food and exercise logs.

AstraZeneca spokesperson Katie Lubenow wrote in an e-mail interview that the group chose to work with the University “to address an unmet need related to cardiovascular health in the community,” as obesity rates are rising across the nation.

A study found that 21 percent of high school students in Detroit were determined to be obese in 2009, according to a Dec. 21, 2010 University of Michigan Health Service press release. This percentage is almost twice as much as the average number of obese people in Michigan, the press release states.

The Cardiovascular Center implemented the Project Healthy Schools program in fall 2004 with the support of local school districts as part of a movement for increased collaboration between the University and the greater community.

The main goal of the project is to prevent long-term cardiovascular problems. Initiatives of the group include expanding physical education programs at local schools, providing information on healthy eating, inspiring self-evaluation of lifestyle decisions and working toward policy change within the schools like eliminating unhealthy foods in the cafeterias.

Before Project Healthy Schools is implemented at a middle school, the Cardiovascular Center evaluates the resources the school has and then tailors its core program to fit that specific school, according to DuRussell-Weston. She said while any school in the area is eligible to be part of the program, in order for it to be successful, the school must have a staff willing to participate and contribute some financial support.

She added that a benefit of the program is that it’s held during the day, allowing the schools to reach students, whereas many other healthy habit programs are after school hours.

“We’re trying to change the whole culture of the school,” DuRussell-Weston said. “Teaching doesn’t just stand alone, kids have to be able to practice what they learn.”

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