Obesity rates among children and adolescents have tripled since 1980 with alarming consequences — from long-term health to social and psychological distress. Women and children experiencing homelessness have been disproportionately affected as the national obesity and food insecurity crisis continues to worsen.
In response, CHOP's Homeless Health Initiative (HHI) created Operation CHOICES, a program that has reached more than 1700 mothers and children in shelters through nutrition and fitness opportunities. HHI has had great success in developing this evidence-based program which is uniquely tailored to the shelter environment.
When Operation CHOICES began in 2009, our six volunteers served one shelter and held nine sessions that reached 72 participants. In 2014, we’ve grown to a force of 130 volunteers serving three shelters, hosting 258 sessions that reached 1,727 participants.
Operation CHOICES is transforming shelter practices, showing them how to serve healthier food options in a culturally sensitive way and shaping the city’s food distribution to maximize fresh produce and healthy menu selections. As leaders on the forefront of this crisis, HHI has presented this model at national conferences in efforts to share effective strategies for reducing obesity in impoverished communities.
Safe Physical Activity & Recreation for Kids (SPARK)
SPARK was developed by the Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) Fellowship Program.
Designed to help break the comorbidity of homelessness and obesity, this program provides weekly sessions for children to learn about exercise and nutrition through fun activities.
Women's Wellness is provided weekly to mothers living in shelters. This hour-long session combines nutrition and fitness for a fun and healthy education program.
Through hands-on learning, mothers are empowered to make healthy choices in their current environments for themselves and their families.
Each week, this group conducts physical activity, nutrition education and relaxation techniques, and finishes with healthy snacks. In addition, practical monthly field trips, such as supermarket tours, park visits, and 5k walks, provide a fun outlet and expand community resources for families in shelter.
To further our efforts to improve nutrition, physical activity, and food access for families living in shelters, HHI works to share its experiences with other organizations, city officials and community agencies at local and national conferences.
HHI also plans to expand collaborations with community groups to increase healthy, fresh food access for families in West Philadelphia. HHI will offer guidance and support to other agencies interested in replicating Operation CHOICES programming and advocacy.
Reviewed by: Karen Hudson, MSW, LSW
Date: April 2015