With 22% of children overweight and 21% obese, Mississippi has the highest population of overweight and obese children in the nation. This is due in large part to poverty and a lack of education. Education has a significant impact on health and health literacy, the ability to obtain and process health education. Unfortunately, Mississippi residents have lower levels of educational attainment on average that the U.S. as a whole.
A group of doctors and nurses from North Mississippi Medical Center decided to take action against childhood obesity and its underlying cause, lack of education, in their community. They researched ways to increase health education and found a solution in a program called HealthWorks, a children’s educational center that encourages kids of all ages to make great life choices, in South Bend, Indiana. They brought the HealthWorks model to Tupelo, MS and opened up the center in 2009.
The goal of HealthWorks is to make health education and physical activity fun. They utilize different types of workshops for different types of learners—visual learners, spatial learners, etc. The space itself is a high energy, wall-to-wall sensory experience that is meant to build confidence, encourage teamwork and increase health literacy through a learning center that feels like an interactive theme park.
By 2017 HealthWorks had reached over 240,000 people across the state with 14 different educational programs. Recently, HealthWorks partnered with the Mississippi State Social Sciences Research Center to conduct an effectiveness study. The study found that 100% of teachers agreed the programming was fun, educational, and age appropriate. More importantly, 70% of parents said their child mentioned HealthWorks in the home and 80% implemented healthy solutions learned at HealthWorks. 80% of parents also said their children were eating more healthy foods and/or being more active.
HealthWorks has already brought its programming to over 40 counties in Mississippi and plans to increase that number throughout 2017 and 2018. Their outreach—through their travelling programming—has reached all the way down to the coast. They also plan to provide professional development for teachers, administrations, and school nurses. Most importantly, they have seen the children that have already been educated through HealthWorks become advocates themselves, spreading a viral message of health through to their peers and families.