YMCA of Florida’s First Coast Named Duval County Health Hero

First Coast YMCA honored for efforts to prevent childhood obesity

The Healthy Jacksonville Childhood Obesity Prevention Coalition (HJCOPC) honored the YMCA of Florida’s First Coast with the 2015 “Heart of the Community” Organizational Leadership Award. The First Coast YMCA joined 14 other local organizations recognized as Duval County Health Heroes at the “Celebrating Healthy Kids and Active Communities Awards Breakfast” hosted by the HJCOPC Friday, Sept. 11. The annual gathering commemorates National Childhood Obesity Prevention Awareness Month and provides a forum to honor 15 local organizations and individuals for their commitment to helping children grow up healthy throughout Duval County.

“Obesity puts our children at risk for heart disease, diabetes and other chronic conditions that they shouldn’t have to worry about.” said Eric Mann, President and CEO of the YMCA of Florida’s First Coast. “In an effort to strengthen our community and help all children achieve and lead healthy lives, the Y is committed to providing direct services, adopting policies and standards, and creating environments that combat and prevent childhood obesity.”

The Y helps to prevent childhood obesity through its before and afterschool programs, which feature the evidence-based program designed to promote healthy eating and increased physical activity, Youth Fit For Life (YFFL). In partnership with Americorps members, the Y provides participants with a 12-week program that includes three weekly nutrition lessons and physical activity to more than 2,700 children ages 5-13 participate each year. In 2014, 66 percent of participants entered the program with a BMI indicating a healthy weight, while 18 percent were overweight and 16 percent of participants were considered obese. By the end of the program, participants considered to be at a healthy weight increased by 7 percent, while the number of overweight or obese participants decreased by 4 percent and 3 percent respectively.

“We are seeing measurable changes that add up to a better quality of life for the children and families in our community, said Jennifer Martin, Vice President of Healthy Living, YMCA of Florida’s First Coast. “By integrating programs and standards that help to prevent childhood obesity into Y programs and services, we are effectively working towards our goal of building a healthier, stronger First Coast.”

Each year, more than 6,000 children benefit from Healthy Eating and Physical Activity (HEPA) standards implemented in Y summer and after school programs as well as YMCA Kidzones, and Tiger Academy, the YMCA’s charter school. HEPA standards create a healthier environment by targeting areas including healthy eating, physical activity, role modeling and family engagement.

The First Coast YMCA creates an environment supportive of childhood obesity prevention through a variety of programs and events. Y vertical gardens projects, a program that served more than 70 youth at the 21st Century Summer Camp at Jacksonville Heights and continues to grow across Northeast Florida, teaches students about plant biology and nutrition as they build and engineer vertical tower gardens. Each year, thousands of local children participate in Y youth sports – a starting point for developing healthy habits. As the partner of the First Coast Kids Triathlon, the Y trained 255 young athletes at local branches to compete with more than 2,500 at this year’s event. Annual events including Healthy Kids Day, which reaches more than 5,000 local parents and youth, and the Back to School Bash, which provides families with services including sports physicals, nutrition education and other programs, offer resources to improve the health of the entire family.

Heather Houston
hhouston@daltonagency.com, 386-216-9472