NMC Commentary

Did RiseVT Healthy Weight Data Catch Regulators’ Attention?

Yes, it did.  The Green Mountain Care Board (GMCB), which regulates health insurance rates and hospital budgets in Vermont, was very engaged during a presentation by RiseVT on the results of our measurement study of healthy weights in children in Franklin and Grand Isle Counties.  We found this data to be a true wake-up call for the need for continued collaboration as we work with individuals, families, schools, businesses, and municipalities to make the healthy choice the easy choice. We know that by embracing healthier lifestyles, we can shift our culture and advance our children and our community in the movement to a healthier future.  I am very pleased that the GMCB welcomed our presentation of the data, asked thoughtful and insightful questions, and encouraged our continued primary prevention efforts.

The RiseVT measurement study, which was approved by the Institutional Review Board at the University of Vermont (UVM) and done in partnership with our District Office of the Vermont Department of Health (VDH), looked at the height and weight of the 1st, 3rd, and 5th graders in 21 of 22 of the elementary schools in Franklin and Grand Isle counties.  89% of the children participated in the study.  Dr. Jennifer Laurent, Ph.D., a researcher and Associate Professor at UVM who serves on the RiseVT Scientific Advisory Board, and Dr. Elisabeth Fontaine, M.D., the Medical Director of Lifestyle Medicine and RiseVT who chairs that Scientific Advisory Board, joined Franklin Grand Isle RiseVT Program Manager and I (co-chair of the FGI RiseVT Executive Committee and Chair of the Statewide RiseVT Board) in presenting the results to GMCB.

The results showed that 41% of the children were either overweight or obese.  That is significantly higher than the 30% national rate from the Centers for Disease control as well as the self-reported rates for youth from our county data in the Youth Risk Behavior Study. The impact of this is deeply concerning.  Dr. Laurent shared insights from other research that shows children who are overweight or obese are four times more likely to have trouble in school, miss school, and have more absences due to chronic conditions.  They are also more likely to be bullied or to bully and to have lower overall academic performance. Research also shows that if a child reaches their teen years as overweight or obese, there is an 80% chance they will remain so as an adult.  That can lead to chronic health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease – lowering the quality of life and causing higher healthcare costs.  We need a different path forward for our children if we want a healthier future for Vermont.

I believe we were able to make the connection for the GMCB between these powerful statistics and the need for all sectors of Vermont to join in the RiseVT movement to embrace healthy lifestyles. It is not a quick fix, rather a long-term commitment to a ‘new normal’ where healthy living is the norm.  Heidi Klein, the Director of Planning & Healthcare Quality at VDH, was in the audience and offered the following public comment following our presentation: “I applaud the work RiseVT is doing and while it appears to be happening very quickly because they are doing so much, culture change takes years … I applaud the vision and tenacity of this group to make it happen.” While full change may take time, RiseVT is showing we can all make improvements now, have fun doing it, and begin enjoying the early benefits right away.

We are seeing great traction in the movement in Franklin and Grand Isle. Social media is abuzz with people building active play into their busy days and enjoying fresh local produce. Schools are adopting and advancing wellness policies to help kids be more active and eat better and take mind breaks. Businesses are enjoying employee wellness challenges. Municipalities are improving infrastructure for recreation and adopting smoke-free parks. RiseVT serves to ignite, accelerate, and amplify these wonderful steps forward.  RiseVT, NMC, and VDH are fortunate to have such strong partners in each of our local supervisory unions, across our business community, and in our municipal leadership. We are also thrilled that our local efforts have caught the attention of people across Vermont and RiseVT is now scaling up statewide. It is a great example of Vermont’s not-for-profit hospitals collaborating for a healthy Vermont, together, as they join in the RiseVT movement. I want each of you to join as well!  Please visit www.RiseVT.org or connect with us on social media or join in any of the RiseVT show-up events that are highlighted in the local media.  Join us on this path to a healthier future – small steps make a big difference!

— Jill Berry Bowen, NMC Chief Executive Officer