FAT to Fit Olympic Games Makes Health Fun

FAT to Fit Olympic Games Makes Health Fun

In 2004, Jefferson County was reported as the most obese county in America. In 2010, Janell and Anthony Edwards attended the Global Obesity Summit in Jackson, and they realized that something needed to be done in terms of improving public health in Mississippi, starting in their community of Jefferson County. That same year, they created the FAT to Fit Olympic Games.

This past year, the Fayette Community Service Organization (FCSO) held its 9th Annual FAT to Fit Olympics Games on July 19 and 20 at Alcorn State. The FAT to Fit Olympic Games consists of many field day games, ranging from 3-on-3 basketball to tug of war, and they have recently added a qualifying event in other counties for four of the tournament games. Winners of all of the games receive a bike or a cash prize. All participants also go through a free health screening.

“Our mission is to foster health and wealth among young men and women, including youth, by empowering service and guidance. Our vision is to create healthier and wealthier communities in Mississippi by turning a negative that has plagued our state for so many years into a positive,” says Janell Edwards.

To date, the Fayette Community Services Organization has conducted over 15,789 free health screenings, and has awarded over 1000 new bicycles and over $4000 in cash and healthcare products. Their goal for the 2020 event is to have a total of five counties participate, and they hope to reach even more counties. 

One of the most helpful people in their journey has been Dr. Olu T. Ekundayo, who helped them realize the importance of getting clean data. 

“When you get the data on somebody’s blood pressure, it comes from a hospital where they have a blood pressure issue. So, we had an event where you’re at the best health possible, and we’re getting those real numbers. You get clean data — you’re not getting sick data,” says Anthony Edwards.

FAT to Fit Olympic Games outgrew both their locations at the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors facility and the local junior high gymnasium in Fayette, and when they realized they were going to be expanding into multiple counties and attracting more people, they decided to partner with Alcorn State and use their larger facilities. 

“We are dedicated to be a part of the solution. We are the inspiration for the nation fighting obesity. We want FAT to Fit to go nationwide. We’ve had participants from thirteen different Mississippi counties and five U.S. states. It will be based in health and people just coming out to have fun,” says Janell Edwards. 

FCSO is also involved in other projects that work to create a culture of health and help lessen the high rates of obesity in our state:

The Fitness is Fun – Community Health Engagement Awareness Program (FIF-CHEAP) implements community engagement activities in targeted counties to increase health knowledge. They provide community meetings, live radio talk segments, and live social media prize campaigns to foster deeper understandings of obesity risk factors and its correlation to social and lifestyle factors, while also promoting obesity prevention and treatment strategies. 

The Healthy Intervention Project Community (HIP-C) tracks the health of 3rd-6th graders with annual health screenings up until their senior year of high school. They have been doing this program for seven years, and their first class of students just graduated. The goal for this project is to establish health consciousness in young children.

The Community Garden in Fayette, MS will open in March 2020 and includes a pond, a walking trail, and a garden. The garden will also have a classroom style demo set up, and through partnerships with MSU Extension and Alcorn State Extension, they will offer gardening classes on site. 

Health Radio Segments – FCSO will have segments on their local radio with healthy advice and recipes in hopes of expanding health literacy throughout the community. This project is funded by the Mississippi State Department of Health. 

Learn more about the Fayette Community Service Organization on their Facebook


Walking Together to a Healthier Future with Linda Fondren

Walking Together to a Healthier Future with Linda Fondren

“Linda, I wish I’d lived my life more for myself.”

That’s what Linda Fondren, founder of ShapeUp Mississippi in Vicksburg, Mississippi, said her fifty-four-year-old sister told her before she’d died of brain cancer. But it wasn’t the cancer that had made her sister regretful, Fondren said; it was the obesity. Because of her weight, her sister couldn’t move around as much; it was her heaviness that’d truly physically restricted her, not her illness.

Six months after her sister’s passing, Fondren opened her women’s-only gym, Shape Up Sisters, for women like her sister, who wanted to work out and lose weight and didn’t know how. Her listening ear and dedication to transformation created waves of change that have given not only her but also the City of Vicksburg national attention for their efforts.

Her sister wasn’t the only thing that spurred Fondren to action. The Vicksburg native was fed up with the stereotype: Mississippi being first in everything bad, and last in everything good.

“Growing up in a state with a legacy of poverty, over-the-top obesity rates, so many other things we can name, and also having family members who passed away from obesity-related issues, I became determined to educate others about exercise and eating well with an emphasis on community support as a key to long-term solutions,” she said. “Those people who have passed on, they couldn’t take a step for themselves. I figure we as a community should take a step for them to succeed.”

Since starting her work, Fondren has helped her community lose over 15,000 pounds in a community challenge. She helped turn Vicksburg National Military Park into a forum of health and discourse, where citizens can take exercise walks while simultaneously participating in facilitated dialogue about the park’s history. The City of Vicksburg as a whole has made serious progress since Fondren and other likeminded individuals mobilized the community to focus on their health; this year, Vicksburg was among 200 communities nationwide who won the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Culture of Health Prize for demonstrating “unwavering efforts to ensure all residents have the opportunity to live healthier lives.”

Fondren says nothing she does would be successful if she didn’t listen to the community about their needs. “Health means so much more than simply not being sick. Health could be a mom wanting a safe place for her children to go outside and play. Some just want a grocery store close in their neighborhoods. Some just want to be able to play outside without listening to gunshots.”

Thanks to Fondren’s influence, more walking trails have been added in the city. Every time one’s finished, Fondren plans a group walk there to bring awareness to it.
“If you’re not celebrating your successes, how will people know?” she said. “This is how we have city pride.

I like creating change. I like to get together and try to find solutions and figure out what role can people play. When you get together, and you can do that and you’re talking to people, people start asking: ‘What can I do? How can I serve?’ And when we get together, we come up with solutions on how thing can happen.”

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Linda’s Tips on How to Build a Healthier Community