Let’s Move Pittsburgh Builds Healthier, More Fulfilling Futures for Local Children
Plant the best seeds, and the best flowers will grow.
Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens knows this message well, as the Oakland sanctuary houses hundreds of plant life varieties from all over the world. Expert care and maintenance throughout their development is also key, but all of the work pays off when a beautiful, thriving garden blooms.
Similarly, learning healthy habits early in life allows for healthy lifestyles to be established down the road. Phipps is familiar with this type of growth and progress, too, thanks to its Let’s Move Pittsburgh program. With the dedication of its thoughtful leaders, like Mary Kathryn Poole, the potential for our future generations is greater than ever.
“We work with community partners to increase healthy eating, increase physical activity, and decrease screen time among kids in our region,” says Poole, director of programming and operations for Let’s Move Pittsburgh. “The goal is to develop consistent messages about health that children can hear at the places they spend their time in, from birth to adulthood. So, the five sectors we focus on are early childcare centers, schools, health care clinics, the greater community outside of schools, and the food and beverage industry.”
With Phipps’ focus on helping others understand the connection between human and environmental health, and its constant interaction with families, Let’s Move Pittsburgh made perfect sense. The group launched in 2011, right around the time Michelle Obama began her Let’s Move campaign.
Currently, the Let’s Move Pittsburgh program is focusing on three main projects: the Green Light Foods App; the Champions Schools Mini Grant Program; and the 5-2-1-0 campaign, which kicks off with a symposium on Thursday, November 12. Each program targets one or more of the sectors Poole says influences a child’s health and nutrition decisions, which cultivates healthy habits that will carry through the rest of their lives. “[The more] we can reach kids,” Poole elaborates, “the better we’ll be in the long-run, since they’re going to be the leaders of the country.”
Her love of working with and influencing youth began while she was earning her undergrad in psychology. While she was learning about the connections between mental and behavioral health to physical health, Poole took an internship with a nonprofit health organization. That lead to a post-college position at another nonprofit, where she served as the resident health educator at a high school for two years. “I think just seeing the kids respond to the programming was really inspiring,” Poole says. “After that, I went back to school and got my masters in public health.”
In her new role at Phipps, which she acquired in January 2015, Poole can combine her experiences in research and uniting multiple groups to establish evidence-based programs to benefit our community’s health and give a stronger voice to our future leaders.
“A lot of people view teens as being resistant to healthy messages — or change in general,” Poole says with a laugh. “In my experience, they actually get really excited about being advocates for issues they are passionate about. I’ve had kids who used to eat total junk food learn about how much your diet impacts your health, then completely change the way they eat and encourage their friends to do so, too. You don’t always see the impact, but it’s those little anecdotal stories that make it worth it and keep you moving forward.”
1. The Green Light Foods App
Launched in January 2015, the Green Light Foods App makes it easier than ever to find the healthiest foods for your family at the grocery store. Simply download the free app via iTunes or Google Play, use it to scan a product’s barcode, and receive an analyzation of its nutritional content at your fingertips. A traffic light-based system shows if there are high (red), medium (yellow), or low (green) levels of fat, sugar, and salt. “It’s really simple and kid-friendly,” Poole says. The new 2.0 version arrived in September 2015, allowing users to access recently scanned products from others and create a “digital pantry” to save all desirable products in one convenient place. Now, shopping for healthy foods easier than ever! — Madison Krupp
2. The Champions Schools Mini Grant Program
“Recognizing that a Let’s Move Pittsburgh department can’t be in every school in the county, we want to give schools the resources they need to carry out a project that relates to healthy eating or physical activity,” Poole says. The Champion Schools Mini Grant Program awards early child care centers and schools with $1,000 to fund these types of projects. The program launched last year, sparking ideas that ranged from offering healthy cooking classes after school, to hosting “family fitness nights” in the gym. “I think it’s empowering for the teachers and administrators in the schools who are actually leading the initiative,” Poole says. “In public health, we know that children receive messages better when they’re coming from someone familiar to them. The Champions Schools Project helps to reach children where they are throughout the school day.” And, 23 more schools will receive grants by December!
This catchy collection of numbers reminds us to eat 5 or more fruits or vegetables; partake in less than 2 hours of recreational screen time; complete at least 1 hour of physical activity; and consume 0 sugary drinks every day. Let’s Go!, a group based out of the Maine Medical Center, developed the message to educate parents and children on simple, yet impactful, habits they should commit to. “There’s a lot of research from the initial program that shows there’s been a significant increase in the awareness of the 5-2-1-0 message among parents, an increased understanding of the message, and changes in health behaviors as well,” Poole says. “I’m hoping that by bringing it here, we’re able to accomplish the same.
The campaign officially begins in Pittsburgh on November 12 at the symposium 5-2-1-0: The Formula for Healthy Families, held at Phipps’ special events hall. Dr. Victoria Rogers, the director of Let’s Go! in Maine, will serve as the keynote speaker. By discussing her program’s history and success, Poole hopes Dr. Rogers can inspire the leaders of Pittsburgh’s program.
To highlight some of Let’s Move Pittsburgh’s other achievements, the Champions Schools Mini Grant Program winners will have the opportunity to present their funded projects to the symposium’s expected 150 guests. “I’m excited to have the opportunity to showcase the work that they’re doing,” Poole says. “They’ll also be able to network with other partners and attendees.”
A panel of students and parents will also be present at the event. Topics like the barriers to healthy living in Pittsburgh and current resources to yield healthy lifestyles will be up for discussion, allowing the experts in the field to connect directly with the families they are striving to help. “A lot of times, symposiums and conferences are just professionals talking,” Poole says. “I think it’s nice to hear from the people we’re actually trying to reach.”
Soon after the symposium wraps, UPMC Health Plan will place advertisements for the 5-2-1-0 campaign that will infiltrate the airwaves and digital media outlets. Tool kits with resources will be provided to schools, health care clinics, and community organizations, too, so the message can more accessible to children. “Our goal is to be a resource for kids and families, and give them the tools to lead healthy lives,” Poole says. “5-2-1-0 seems like a good fit and a good message for us to bring to Pittsburgh.”
Throughout the summer, Let’s Move Pittsburgh has partnered with WHIRL Magazine to bring free, family yoga classes to Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. The outdoor classes continue on October 25, and Poole hopes to find a way to extend the sessions into the colder months as well. “It’s a program I really like because it’s free and family-oriented,” she says. “There are a lot of yoga classes across the city, but not all of them are appropriate for kids. It’s neat to see kids of all ages practicing yoga [here].” To sign up for a class, call 412.431.7888.