Improving Education in Pittsburgh by Combatting Obesity

Dec 31, 2014

When the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh recently asked community leaders to identify the biggest unmet needs for children the number one priority was prevention of childhood obesity.

It just so happens that Children’s Hospital has a weight and wellness center, and a partnership with the Pittsburgh Public school district was quickly formed.

“When we interacted with [district leaders] they asked that we partner with some type of program with established outcomes that would help us better monitor our success,” said Children’s Hospital Vice President Kathy Guatteri.

Guatteri decided the Healthy Schools program at the Clinton Foundation’s Alliance for a Healthier Generation seemed to best fit the request and another partnership was born.

“It starts out with an assessment,” Guatteri said. “They look at the school menu, they look at snacks that are available in the vending machines, they look at the amount of physical activity available to children, they look at the availability of after school programs, thy look at things as simple as having access to drinking water.”

In all the assessment includes about 40 items that are not just focused on the students but also on the staff.

“It recognizes the value of having healthy staff within your institution,” Guatteri said.

The assessment process is underway in the 10 schools involved in the pilot program. Those schools enroll about 10 percent of the district’s students spanning all grades.

“Their (district staff) intention is that they will roll this out to their entire district, which is about 25,000 children,” Guatteri said.

Each school will create its own Wellness Council to implement all of the recommendations that come out of the assessment.

Children’s Hospital feels just launching the partnership should be considered a success, however the commitment to the effort expands beyond that. The hospital will be monitoring outcomes along side the Clinton Foundation.

“The two things they are going to look at is there any change in absenteeism rate in the schools as well as … the overall impact of educational metrics,” said Guatteri.   

It will be at least a year before any results are known.

Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh is already moving on another project it hopes will support the district’s efforts to improve the health of all students. Hospital staff will be providing continuing education training for school nurses in areas the nurses identified as weaknesses in their own experiences.