Greenville Works Together to Promote a Healthy Community

Greenville, SC | January 2013 | By National Recreation and Park Association

Greenville Works Together to Promote a Healthy Community 410

A mom watches as her eight year old daughter is weighed and measured at the pediatrician’s office. She knows that her child is “heavy” and she feels helpless. Where should she start? She’s not sure if the school lunches are always healthy. P.E. is offered only once per week. Concession stands and vending machines at parks and community centers tempt kids with hot dogs, chips and sodas. The last doctor simply said “Help your daughter eat healthier foods and exercise more.” Where are the parks nearby? How can she improve the food her daughter eats at school and at play?

Who can help this worried mom make the right healthy choices for her child? In Greenville, South Carolina, she’s in the right place. The pediatrician she is about to see is part of the LiveWell Greenville movement and has been trained to counsel families about healthy environmental changes for their children. The Greenville team recognized that physicians are a trusted source of information from parents, but that they are often overwhelmed and frustrated with their own powerlessness to address obesity in children. Using an active and engaged physician on the team, the partners developed a multi-pronged approach for helping doctors help families.

First, LiveWell Greenville used peer-to-peer physician education on the importance of height and weight measures at every visit. Second, the physicians were trained in “motivational interviewing”, a technique that engages patients in making concrete changes in their lives. Many recent graduates learn this in medical school, but the more experienced physicians didn’t have this technique readily available. The third and most powerful component of the training was to provide actionable information to families. “We created a map of parks and open spaces that the doctor could show to help the parent identify recreation options near their home.” LiveWell Greenville also created wellness prescription pads, which a pediatrician can now use to prescribe a “walk around Cleveland Park with your daughter three times per week.”

After the physicians were trained and equipped with new information and resources for families, LiveWell Greenville considered a larger question: How to improve the food environment of these recreation areas? Their solution came from an unexpected partner: a local vending provider. Rhino Concessions provides food in a variety of venues in the city: a store, a sole source contract with the local water parks and mobile food venues. Serendipitously, this business was interested in providing healthier fare for their customers. The new partnership worked to develop a “LiveWell-approved” bag lunch, including fruit, 100% juice, crackers instead of chips, and a sandwich. This bag lunch bears the LiveWell sticker – which in Greenville is now synonymous with healthy choices.

The group also engaged the local schools to improve the quality of lunch offered to children. They applied for a grant to send every school lunch staff person in 11 schools to culinary school, where staff all learned from-scratch cooking and are now offering healthier breakfast and lunch menus. Eighteen more are on the docket for the coming year. Physicians can now encourage families to eat the school lunches, and to play at the water park and other recreation areas because they know that healthy food options are there. Families are empowered to make healthy choices because they have options. The healthy choice is the easy choice. 

Focusing on the partnerships, opening doors and opportunities during an economic downturn, and creating a clear communication strategy were important components of success in Greenville. The natural reaction when funds are tight is often to pull back, but this group did it differently. They created opportunities by truly working together, by focusing on vision and communication rather than pitting one programmatic idea against another, by nurturing ideas within their team that would benefit their whole community, by creating a common vision and letting stakeholders come up with and implement ideas. Greenville, SC is a community on its way to being the healthiest city in the country.