DuPage County, Ill., in 2009 launched a major obesity-prevention effort called FORWARD (Fighting Obesity Reaching healthy Weight Among Residents of DuPage). FORWARD has been the key driver of the county’s efforts to create healthier communities for children and families, and childhood obesity rates have started to go down in the county. Since 2009, FORWARD has:

  • Annually measured student body mass index (BMI) to help it track rates of overweight and obesity over time.
  • Spread the 5-4-3-2-1 Go!® recommendations created by the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago’s Children to schools, libraries, doctor’s offices, after-school programs and other local organizations. The recommendations encourage children to get five servings of fruits and vegetables, four servings of water, three servings of low-fat dairy, two hours or less of screen time and one hour or more of physical activity every day.
  • Launched “Rethink your Drink” in 2012 with the Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity (IAPO). Participating hospitals and businesses display signage to encourage people to choose healthier drinks, such as water. Working with FORWARD and IAPO, all 5 hospital systems serving DuPage County have made improvements to their food and beverage environments, including labeling and creating price incentives for healthy foods, offering more fresh fruits and vegetables and offering water as the default beverage in meal deals.
  • Created the FORWARD Action Network (FAN) to support healthcare providers’ efforts to address obesity. The FAN provides guidance to help providers address nutrition, physical activity and obesity with pediatric patients. It also connects providers with local resources that encourage healthy eating and physical activity, such as ProActive Kids—a free wellness program for families.
  • In 2013, awarded mini-grants totaling $42,000 to 11 county organizations, including elementary schools, food pantries and local Ys, to purchase physical activity equipment, upgrade kitchen equipment and improve community gardens. These capacity building grants build on close to $200,000 in grants to local organizations over the previous four years.
Children eating healthy snacks.
Students get a healthy snack at William Hammerschmidt Elementary in Lombard, Ill.
Students exercising in class.
Kids get a physical activity break in school.

The county has considered health in many other aspects of its planning too, such as its long-term environmental plans. In 2012, DuPage signed onto the Cool Counties Initiative to reduce greenhouse gases. One of the recommendations states that the County should educate consumers about the benefits of buying locally grown food and shopping locally, which spurred the County to work with FORWARD to increase the number of school and community gardens.  

Girl enjoying a health snack.
Healthy snacks can make fun faces.
High School students build raised planting beds.
High school students help build a school garden at Vestment High School in Westmont, Ill.

Originally posted on February 5, 2015.

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