StayWell Health Care, Inc., Waterbury, CT
Healthy Weight Collaborative - Phase 2
By Julie Eisen
Meet the Team
Waterbury, Conn., a former industrial city 90 minutes northeast of New York City, has seen a lot of change in the last few years. Its 110,000 population has become more ethnically diverse and, as in most of the country, the city has seen rising rates of overweight and obesity. In response to these changes, StayWell Health Care, Inc., a federally qualified health center and the home base of the Connecticut team in the Healthy Weight Collaborative, is hoping tutus and turns will help tackle the city’s childhood obesity epidemic.
The team is targeting healthy weight promotion to Waterbury’s 20,000 predominately low-income children ages 2 through 14, starting with the roughly 7,000 of whom are patients at StayWell. With an estimated 39 percent of the target population considered overweight or obese, there is work to be done, says Christine Bianchi, team leader and chief development officer at StayWell Health Care, Inc.
To promote healthy weight and physical activity to their target population in a creative and engaging way, the team developed an alternative prescription program.
“We are looking for community resources that we can partner with so if someone is identified as being overweight or obese, the pediatrician can make a specific recommendation about what they can do to become more active,” says Jill Schoenfuss, team data manager and grants manager at StayWell. “We want to get involved with after school and physical activity providers in order to have actual places to refer kids.”
Following a test pilot at the Greater Waterbury YMCA, one organization that has stepped up for that role is the Connecticut Dance Theatre (CDT), a nonprofit arts organization and dance school just a few blocks away from StayWell. In this developing partnership, if a child is interested in dance, he or she can be referred to CDT for cost subsidized dance classes. To make the recommendation, the doctor actually just uses a regular prescription form. “We liked the idea of keeping it simple,” says Bianchi.
CDT Artistic Director Donna Bonasera sees the program as a way to keep her school connected to the needs of the community. Already involved with the national Let’s Move! initiative, Bonasera is no stranger to the obesity problem in our country. Children referred to CDT will have the opportunity to participate in a well-rounded dance program including ballet, jazz, hip hop or African dance, as well as nutrition education. The goal of the dance prescription program, she says, is to increase the awareness of and use of dance as a form of physical activity, as well as to spread the benefits derived from dance for a healthy mind, body and soul.
As the team progresses this program, they also hope to spread the prescription model to other afterschool providers.