Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Growing Healthy Kids

The statistics are staggering. I'm not much for numbers and yet I can even quote the stats by heart:

- 1/3 of American children are obese (2/3 of American adults)
- For the first time since the marvels of modern medicine, health experts are predicting that children will have a lower life span than their parents (2-5 years)
- 10 percent of America's health care bills are obesity-related, whether it be treatment for diabetes, hypertension or joint injury and this doesn't even include mental health related costs
- Illinois has the fourth highest rate of childhood obesity.

It's bad.

To combat this national scourge, First Lady Michelle Obama recently announced her "Let's Move" campaign with an ambitious goal of ending childhood obesity in a generation. While I agree with some commentators that the initiative's dependence on industry cooperation seems too hopeful, I believe that the national attention brought about by this announcement moves the ball far down the field on this important issue.

In light of the recent unveiling of the White House program, I wanted to share some news of a local initiative intended to pool resources in this important battle.

On January 24, the non-profit that I founded, Purple Asparagus, with the help of a tireless committee,* spearheaded the first Growing Healthy Kids event at Logan Square Kitchen. The Sunday lunch meeting brought together approximately 30 organizations dedicated to educating children about nutrition, gardening, the environment, and, in general, how to lead a healthy lifestyle. It was an event that our board had long tossed around at our meetings. Ultimately, we wanted to provide groups working with Chicagoland kids around issues of food and wellness an opportunity to meet and learn more about one another so that we could find ways to collaborate. As we all know, the issues facing our city's children are huge and daunting and no one organization can solve them alone.

Photo Credit, Grant Kessler

In attendance were representatives from the following groups:

Academy for Global Citizenship
Chartwells Thompson Hospitality
Chicago Botanic Garden
Common Threads
Food Atelier
Fresh Connections
Green Sugar Press
Good Food Project
Gourmet Gorilla
Green City Market
Growing Power
Healthy Schools Campaign
Organic Life
Seven Generations Ahead
Share Our Strength
Slow Food
The Kids' Table
Urban Worm Girl
We Farm

Other groups, like CLOCC (The Consortium to Lower Childhood Obesity) and Openlands were unable to attend, but provided their contact information for upcoming events and programs of Growing Healthy Kids.

We were treated to a surprisingly delicious from Chartwells, CPS main food service company, who donated the winning lunch from Healthy Schools Campaign's 2009 Cooking Up Change Event: Chicken Jambalaya and Tomato and Cucumber Salad. We also enjoyed fair trade, sustainably raised coffee from Crop to Cup.

Photo Credit, Grant Kessler

We've heard almost uniformly positive comments from the event - the only small criticism was that it wasn't long enough. Imagine that, a 2 hour Sunday afternoon business meeting that wasn't long enough! It goes to show how much we have to say to one another.

Going forward, the Growing Healthy Kids list will act as a listserv providing to its members news about events like Seven Generations Ahead's Fresh From the Farm Training and CLOCC's meeting of the Healthy Teacher Network. We also plan to meet for an April GHK Green Drinks at Uncommon Ground to continue our networking efforts. Ultimately, we hope to organize a health fair that will be open to parents, teachers, and administrators who will be able to learn about the programs available to promote healthy lifestyles among their parents and students.

In a few weeks, Purple Asparagus will be posting on its site ( the first version of the Growing Healthy Kids brochure, which provides information on the mission and initiatives of each of these organizations. It's already been a tremendous resource for those of us in the group and has set off a series of meeting between individual groups. For example, in just this week, I've had meetings or calls with CLOCC, Organic Life, and Fooditude.

If you know of an organization that should have been included, but wasn't, please email me at We want this group to be as expansive as possible.

The only effective way to achieve Mrs. Obama's important goal is to work together, children with parents, parents with schools, non-profits with for profits and of course other non-profits. To borrow a phrase from her campaign, let's stop citing statistics and wringing our hands and let's move.

Are you working on any programs in your communities to combat obesity? Please share any successes, challenges, etc.

*Committee members: Nancy Lufrano, Tim Magner, Nora Gainer, Sara Gasbarra, Melissa Tobias, Trish Rynolds, Ryan Kimura.


  1. Wanted to share a pet peeve on fitness challenge with my own kids. We (everybody in our family) are members at the big beautiful health club near our house (natl chain) and try to exercise together as a family. You would be shocked at how difficult this is to do! Our boys are 7, 11 and 15. Lots of dirty looks from the adults who view the gyms and fitness areas as kidfree zones (Most people just dump their kids in the childcare area) We end up booking a handball court just to have a place to jump rope and do active play with them, or, run laps around the margins of the gyms. I don't understand why there aren't more opportunities to exercise in gyms as families, rather than having to pay extra to stick your kids in age-specific classes. We're apart all day as it is!

  2. Hurray! It is fantastic to see what you are doing. You are a true match-maker! I wonder what it would take to do something similar here?
    Well, today's meeting with our school district / parents about renovating our school lunch program is a big start!

  3. Monica,

    I thinks that's so true and it's really difficult in the city to find that unstructured fitness/exercise time. The idea of reserving a handball court is genius! Do you get any blow back on that?

    Thor's school has recess every day and he's a sports nut so he gets running around time then, but I wish they would incorporate more P.E. I also wish that our neighborhood were more neighborhoody. Even though I live in Roscoe Village, it's street by street dependent. One block over from us is kid central, whereas we have a lot of older folks.

  4. Michelle,

    This was a good fit for us because a lot of what I do on a day to day basis for Purple Asparagus is meet with other organizations to figure out how to partner with them - it's how we as a volunteer organization have been able to grow. I also do a lot of volunteer work for other organizations both as an individual and as a caterer. Finally, this may not apply in SF where everyone is already pretty sustainably minded - we've been one of the organizations that straddles the green world, the sustainable food community, and the nutritional education groups. Through these connections, we were able to put together and awesome committee who reached out their feelers even further.


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