Transcript of Episode 1: JumpIN for Healthy Kids

with host David Richards [DR] and guest Megan McKinney Cooper [MC].
Listen to the audio

[DR] Welcome to the Learning Network’s Healthy Communities Podcast. I’m your host David Richards from APHA. In this podcast, I will talk to public health experts about common health issues in our communities, and how HC projects aim to address them.     

This is our first podcast. We hope to create about a 20-minute episode on a specific topic that will change each week. We hope that the podcast provides you with information that is interesting, relevant and encouraging. If you have any comments or suggestions please leave those on the comment section at the bottom of the page. Now, on to the show.

[DR] This week on the Healthy Communities Podcast we’re going to talk about childhood overweight and obesity with Megan McKinney Cooper, communications director for JumpIN for Healthy Kids from Greater Lawrence, Indiana. We’ll see how a holistic approach to childcare can reverse obesity rates. 

This is the Healthy Communities Podcast, Episode 1: Jump In for Healthy Kids


[MC] I work for JumpIN for Healthy Kids, which is a public health initiative here. We are actually headquartered in Indianapolis. Our project is focused on the Greater Lawrence Area. Indianapolis is a little bit unusual in the sense that it’s divided into townships but it also has a couple independent cities inside its own city limits like Speedway. Everyone has heard of the Indianapolis 500. There is a little area called Speedway, which is its own incorporated city and Lawrence as well. So our project is focused on the city of Lawrence and Lawrence Township, and there is a little area of Indianapolis that is included as well. It’s a four zip code area. But just a little background on me; I have been at JumpIN for only about five months, so this is all very new to me. I actually have an arts background and I have worked in non-for-profit ever since I finished my graduate degree, which is about 16 years ago. I transitioned into early education about five years ago. I’m the mother of a young child. She’s six. 

[DR] Great. One of the things that really stood out to me, it said that some parts of the Greater Lawrence area are the worst food deserts in the country. Was that in the country or in the county? 

[MC] No, Lawrence is one of the worst in the country. It’s the worst in the state of Indiana. Food deserts and food access is a part of healthy eating obviously and for Lawrence, Greater Lawrence, it’s economically depressed, it doesn’t have a good transportation infrastructure, and it’s spread out. It’s urban, but it’s not condensed, so you have to walk blocks and blocks to get to your next destination, for the most part. It also has pockets of real danger areas. There aren’t, many kids don’t often feel comfortable or safe going out and playing on playgrounds. They just don’t have access to that type of outdoor activity that you might have in a safer neighborhood. The significant piece that you brought up is that there just isn’t enough healthy food. There aren’t grocery stores there, for the most part. A lot of people who live in that area purchase their food at corner stores. 

[DR] There’s maybe more than 40 percent of overweight or obesity in children. Do you want to talk about how bad the problem is?

[MC] Yes, I’d love to. Overweight and obesity is one of those problems that as my boss would say, when you die, they don’t put overweight or obese on your death certificate. The things that kill you are the chronic conditions that result from being obese or overweight like heart attacks, hypertension, like those types of things. And those kinds of things are starting to be seen in children. Indiana has a high overweight and obesity in children, higher than the national average. The national average is about 32 percent, which is really too high about twice as high as it should be, but in our central Indiana, it’s about 43 percent. So, in Greater Lawrence it’s over 40 percent that’s reflected in the greater Indianapolis area. That’s a lot. That’s almost one out of every two children. That’s high. Overweight and obese children tend to become overweight and obese adults. However, they’re not predestined to be. There is room for improvement and if you can address all of this sectors that are involved in children’s habits and behaviors and places, you can start to make an impact and improvements in children. Children are more likely to bounce back than adults are because they haven’t been walking around for years with all this extra weight. It’s still new for them; they’re growing. They have a lot of things on their side, which help them overcome this if they’re given the right tools and the right environment. 

[DR] I really liked what you said about habits and behaviors. I think that’s a very great point. What are those other sectors? What are those other social determinants besides food access? 

[MC] When we first got this work started, we looked at, and this is before my time here, I’ll just share a little bit about the organization’s history. We’ve only been around for about five or six years. Back when the Affordable Care Act was first passed, one component was this program called CORD, which stands for Childhood Obesity Research Demonstration. It’s basically a system of implementation that is multiple interventions for childhood obesity. It sort of establishes best practices. There are several communities that we’ve studied to see what worked and what didn’t. What communities were successful? We looked at these 12 separate communities and seven of them were actually successful. Of those seven, two of them flattened the obesity rate and five of them actually reduced it. We looked at all of the work that they had done to figure out how to model our work after it and we actually vetted our plans through the CDC. Basically what was determined was the multi-sector approach. You have to look at where kids are all of the time, all of the different places, all of the different environments, where you can have all of these interventions going on simultaneously. You also need to create a geographic community and implement all of them at once within the community, so it’s a community-wide effort. The work that we do, we have work in schools all over central Indiana. We have work in childcares all over central Indiana. We have these various sector implementations, but in the Greater Lawrence area, we have them all together and they’re all working together. It’s really a community demonstration pilot for us. The intervention areas are childcare, schools, employers, food access, clinician engagement, and some public awareness. They all need to be worked on at the same time, or at least that’s what we’re doing here in the Greater Lawrence area.

[DR] I do remember in your blog post that the work place and the built environment has been some of your greatest challenges. If you have this synergistic relationship with each of them and all of them are supposed to work together, how do you make sure that they pull their own weight? 

[MC] That’s a great question. The way that we structure our work is that we develop the idea, the project and then we try to find a home for it in the community. We’re not the direct program provider. We get partners to implement the programs and then we find a home for them. These don’t have the most logical homes. That’s really the core of it, I think. For workplace wellness, we don’t quite have a home for how that program could work. Is it the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce? Is it the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce? Is it somebody else? Is it a different organization? For us to get it up and running and to get it owned by somebody is the next step that we’re trying to achieve. For built environment, I think that we’re going to have a lot more success than we feared. There’s actually a lot of momentum going on in Lawrence that’s moving faster than we anticipated. We are about to reach out to some very large apartment complexes in Greater Lawrence and we are about to start reaching out to them to try to find ways to improve their built environment. Whether that’s installing a playground or creating some type of partnership with a church for a fitness program. We are very preliminary there. The City of Lawrence just finished a park plan that it’s going to be implementing in a couple years and a huge new public transportation option that going to be going in the next couple of years. Those two things are going to dramatically impact the built environment to Lawrence for the better. They’re going to be really great. 

[DR] You’ve sort of touched on this, but what’s an example of the ideal partner?

[MC] Thinking a lot about how partnerships are probably the most important piece of the work that we do that can really make or break the project. We’ve been very fortunate. My boss and I were talking earlier this morning. One of the challenges is when you going into a community and you’re offering resources and you have this idea for everything, people treat you with some skepticism. Why are you here? What exactly do you want from me? If you can share your resources with them, then they start to see that you’re there to help, and then you start to build these relationships. That’s really how these partnerships are created. One of our greatest partnerships is with an organization called Early Learning Indiana. That’s actually where I came from. Where I worked before I joined JumpIN. The partnership was in place, irrespective of my work, but because I’ve worked in early education for so long, it’s helped me really navigate that relationship since I’ve been here. What makes it so strong is that they are just as committed to the work as we are. They believe that it is very important. They have a statewide network of people. They have been the ones to actually implement the program. While we can secure funding to train teachers in nutrition and physical activity programs, Taking Steps for Healthy Success, they are the ones who actually do it. They are the ones who reach out to all the childcare providers, who help them enroll in it, they manage the project. They are also good partners with us on what we call Small p Policy work, so not legislative work, but they’ve helped us work with the FFSA to embed some of these trainings in statewide training mandates. There’s an online workforce development tool called Training Central. Our trainings which we have created in partnership with Early Learning Indiana are going to be part of that training of that Training Central. Every single childhood providers that is licensed has to go through a certain number of trainings each year as part of their workforce development and ours will be part of that. We know that we could possibly be influencing teachers across the state every single year. The work that we have done, piece by piece by piece, is now actually embedded in the state-led policies for early childhood. That’s the type of work we really like to see. 

[DR] I do want to go back to partnerships and working toward a central goal. Does everyone buy in to the reverse obesity rates by 2025? How do you make sure that their goals align with your goals?

[MC] That’s a really good question. It’s something that we talk about a lot. When you’re working with all of these different community partners, you’re sitting at a table where a lot of people don’t have the same goal that you have. If I have a superintendent sitting at the table with us, that superintendent cares about learning, test scores, and student achievement. His focus isn’t going to be early childhood obesity. What we have had to do is help them with their goals. We can draw a line between healthy eating, physical activity and academic success. If we can make that case to the superintendent, he or she is going to be much more likely to listen to us. And if we say that we’ll come in, do all the work and meet you where you are to help you with these things and you will be better off, then we’re taking the anxiety out of the situation. The trick is to get a lot of different parties at the table because you can know what everyone else is up to. Even when they’re not focused on what you’re focused on, you need some that are, but others because they’re going to know what else is going on in the community and where this all fits together. You can then help strategize how it all gets grouped together. 

[DR] Framing the question or the argument is really important for these health policies. 

[MC] Realizing that having people have different focuses can be strength of the group, not a weakness. You don’t need everyone to have your same focus because their own focus areas can actually help what you’re doing as well.   

[DR] That’s a fantastic point. Where are you? How are you doing? Are you reaching that goal? 

[MC] Stemming the tide of rising rates of childhood overweight and obesity is not a quick game. It’s going to take a long time. The kind of work that we do is not going to be measured quarter-by-quarter or even year-by-year. It’s going to take us a long time to know what the ultimate impact is. What we can measure is how many interventions were actually doing at one time. The way that we can measure our success is to look at how many interventions we have going at one time and how many people we’re reaching all at once. I would say, if you’re looking at all the things that we’re doing right this minute, the food access work is very strong, the early childhood work is very strong, the schools work is very strong, and the built environment work is staring to gain a lot of momentum. The work place wellness work, we are plugging away at and hoping that we can boost that up a little. We can kind of check all of those boxes that we have going. We also have a pretty robust public awareness campaign. We use the 5-2-1-0 system for our public awareness raising. It’s a quick easy way to remember 4 basic healthy habits: Five or more fruits and vegetables a day, two hours or less of screen time, one hour or more of physical activity and zero sugary drinks every day. That’s our public awareness campaign that is really easy to remember and relatively easy to do. We are checking all of those boxes and hoping that all of those multiple interventions mean that people are being exposed to this stuff in more than one place, it could be sinking in and inspiring people to make changes. 

[DR] Talking with you and getting to know your project, I think you guys are doing really well.

[MC] I give so much credit to these groups that are trying to do good work. We’ve just bitten off a big concrete sense of project and I’m so please at how well it’s going. I’m pleased at the hopefully the impact that we’re making. This is not really a project that has a beginning and an end, even though the Challenge has an end in the fall, our work will continue. 

[DR] That’s great and that’s exactly what we want to hear. This brings me to my last point, what are these lessons learned and what advice do you have for these other communities that are trying to apply similar topics and similar themes? 

[MC] Like I said before, building solid partnerships is the most important thing. It really does take time. You cannot rush it. You have to talk to a whole lot of people. You have to spend a whole lot of time talking and familiarizing yourself with other groups that are doing work. You have to figure out how you can support them. Figure out what you need from them, figure out how to get decision makers at your table, and hang in there. There’s never enough money, there’s never enough resources and that’s just true no matter what, but you have to keep going. You can keep going because there isn’t a deadline. This work isn’t going to be finished. You have to have the tenacity to keep at it. 


[DR] That’s the show this week. The show is produced by David Richards. Links to the documents are posted below. Thank you to my guest Megan McKinney Cooper and thank you all for listening. See you next time.