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Report: more families making healthier choices 

More kids in Greater Portland are eating their vegetables and spending fewer hours in front of a computer or television screen, signs that a program geared at making them healthier is working.

The Let's Go! program, part of Maine Medical Center, marked its fifth anniversary by releasing data indicating that awareness of the program and its 5-2-1-0 message is strong and bringing about positive changes.

5-2-1-0 encourages kids to eat 5 fruits/vegetables daily, limit recreational screen time to 2 hours, engage in 1 hour of physical activity daily, and consume 0 sugary drinks and drink more water and low fat milk.

It works by reaching families at several key points, "where they live, learn, work, and play," says Victoria Rogers, MD, Director of Let's Go! 

The Let's Go! model for change is centered on three core principles: healthy places support healthy choices, consistent messaging across sectors is essential, and strategies are based on science and recommended by the medical community.

Let's Go! has partnered with 12 communities in Greater Portland to reach:

·       56 schools, with more than 23,000 students
8 district-wide school nutrition programs serving over 20,000 students
·       34 child care programs caring for over 1,400 children
·       28 after school recreation programs serving over 1,800 students
·       29 health care sites

Let's Go! also works with many local and state partners, including the Healthy Maine Partnerships, City of Portland, and Opportunity Alliance.

Key among its health-conscious messages are 10 intervention strategies that include encouraging healthy choices for snacks and celebrations, promoting water and low fat milk as beverage selections, and discouraging the use of food as a reward.

"If families are exposed to health promotion messages through several settings, and if those settings have policies and environments that support healthy choices, families will be more likely to adopt and maintain healthy behaviors in their daily lives," says Emily Rines, Community Impact Director, Health, at the United Way of Greater Portland, where Let's Go! began five years ago.

In 2011, more than half of parents in Greater Portland (55 percent) were aware of the 5-2-1-0 health message, up from 14 percent in 2007. That represents an increase of 293 percent.

In 2011, nearly half of Greater Portland parents (47 percent) correctly identified all four 5-2-1-0 recommendations, a significant increase from 35 percent in 2007.

Behavior Changes

·       In 2011, Greater Portland parents were 63 percent more likely than in 2007 to report their child ate the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables
·       Parents were 18 percent more likely to report their child's daily recreational screen time was 2 hours or less.

Although a greater proportion of children are meeting the recommendation for daily screen time, in 2011, over half continue to spend more than 2 hours daily (55 percent) in front of screens, a sign that there is still work to be done.  

Despite that, Let's Go! efforts are gaining notice at the national level. William Dietz, MD, PhD, Director of the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity at the CDC praised the program at a Portland luncheon last week. "Let's Go! represents a good model of what a strong coalition can accomplish at the state and local level. This kind of integrated approach is a model for how communities and states can proceed to prevent and control childhood obesity."

"It is working," says Dr. Rogers, the program's director. "Environments are changing to make it easier for kids to eat healthier, but it takes a concerted effort on all fronts - doctor's offices, workplace, school -and the more times people hear the message, the more likely they are to remember it and make behavioral changes."



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