Healthy Eating and Active Living Starts at Schools in Halifax County

The Halifax County Health Department will expand a program aimed at decreasing obesity by encouraging physical activity and healthy eating within the county’s three school districts. This investment is part of the Trust’s long-term Healthy Places NC initiative, which announced a series of grants awarded to organizations across the state.

The $441,425 grant will allow the Health Department to extend its Coordinated Approach to Child Health (CATCH) program in afterschool and Smart Start programs this year. CATCH is an evidenced-based health promotion program developed by the University of Texas School of Public Health based on the Centers for Disease Control’s Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child Model.

The program is currently in 13 elementary and middle schools throughout the county. Each school has a CATCH team which works to implement CATCH’s initiatives at the school level. At the schools, the CATCH team holds booster and curriculum trainings for the teachers and parents so that they are able to understand CATCH’s four main components: students and teachers, cafeteria, parental and physical education. Every student enrolled is automatically part of the CATCH program, which has the goal of enabling students to understand the success around healthy eating and physical activity.

“The CATCH program is a community-wide initiative that is being implemented at the school level,” said Laura Ellis of the Halifax County Health Department. “One of the main takeaways from the program is that students understand and appreciate healthy food choices and the importance of physical activity by creating a healthy school environment. The CATCH program encourages students to share what they learn in school with their families at home, creating a healthy home environment.”

The program’s efforts center on data collection. Not only does CATCH issue parental and student surveys at the beginning and ending of each school year, but the program conducts what it calls lunch tray observations. CATCH members take photos of randomized lunch trays as they come off the lunch line, and will then take photos after the students are finished with their lunch. This method is to measure fruit and vegetable consumption, which helps inform the program on how to talk to and educate kids on healthy eating habits.

“I am a strong supporter when it comes to addressing the needs of the whole child, which is exactly what the CATCH program allows us to do,” said Eric Cunningham, superintendent of Halifax County Schools. “Before we even address the students’ basic needs, we need to meet them where they are, and CATCH is a great vehicle to help us do that. I’m seeing this idea spread like wild fire throughout the entire community – and it’s not just about what we are seeing, but what we are hearing. We hear these families talk about healthy eating habits, or things they want to change and incorporate into their households. It’s exciting to see both the students and their families make more responsible choices about their food choices.”

“Helping families live healthier lives is about more than just access to health care. A major piece of the Trust’s Healthy Places NC work is looking at factors beyond the hospital walls that impact a person’s well being. Encouraging students to live a healthier life is the first step to ensuring the entire county is involved in such efforts,” said Laura Gerald, president of the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust. “Not only will this grant help propel healthy eating and active living throughout the schools, but it will encourage community partnership with other health initiatives and organizations. It really is about making sure the entire community is involved in these efforts.”

Halifax County is part of the Trust’s Healthy Places NC initiative. The Trust plans to invest $100 million in 10 to 12 rural counties over a 10-year period. To date, the Trust has invited seven counties—McDowell, Beaufort, Burke, Halifax, Rockingham, Edgecombe and Nash Counties—to participate and will announce additional counties in the coming years. In each county, Healthy Places NC work and projects are driven by the community’s concerns, as well as by where the Trust thinks there’s an opportunity and the Trust works in partnership with residents for sustainable, long-term change.