Bringing Mass in Motion Kids’ Healthy Behaviors to Life

As part of the Mass in Motion Kids initiative in Fitchburg, Community Health Connections/Fitchburg Community Health Center (CHC) hired Maria Vazquez as a Community Health Worker. Maria coordinates the Healthy Weight Clinic and Worksite Wellness program at the CHC. She also serves as an important link between the health center and the other project sectors by promoting the five key Mass in Motion Kids messages to parents and their children. Just a few months into her role, Maria and her colleagues developed interactive programming in the clinical and community settings to bring the healthy eating and active living behaviors to life.

The five key messages are:
  1. Switch from sugary drinks (like soda, sports, and fruit drinks) to water.
  2. Watch no more than 2 hours of screen time per day (includes TV, smartphones, and hand-held video games).
  3. Get at least 1 hour of physical activity (including active play) per day.
  4. Replace sugary, salty, fried, and fast food with fruits and vegetables.
  5. Sleep at least 11 hours per day (2-5 years old). Sleep at least 10 hours per day (6-12 years old).

One of the program series is called the Lobby Project, which was introduced to the CHC in January 2013 to highlight the project’s first message: switch from sugary drinks to water. This concept was developed by Maria and Kristin Cunningham, a Research Assistant at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute. Kristin was responsible for recruiting parents at the CHC for a cohort to evaluate changes in children’s behaviors, so she was familiar with the CHC system. Maria and Kristin set up a table in the CHC lobby to encourage anyone who walked by to ask questions, take the Mass in Motion Kids’ materials, and sign up to receive Mass in Motion Kids updates from Maria.

The table display showed various sugary drinks next to plastic bags filled with the amount of sugar in each drink. This display was provided by Healthy Weight Clinic’s nutritionist Nancy Fillers. It was such a shocking image that Maria and Kristin had conversations with about 60 people throughout the day.  People even took pictures of the display with their phones. They also handed out a number of Mass in Motion Kids materials. “What’s great about having a display in the lobby is that everyone walks by, including kids, parents, pharmacy visitors, dental patients, behavioral health patients and CHC staff” said Maria. “We were able to reach a lot of different people to share healthy messaging in a welcoming way.”

This program occurred on a Wednesday, which coincided with Maria’s Worksite Wellness program called “Water Wednesdays.” Maria encourages the entire staff at the CHC to only drink water on Wednesdays, and abstain from soda or juice, and she hopes the behavior will spread throughout the week.

The following week, Maria and Kristin focused on message number two: reduce screen time. This concept seemed difficult at first, but they knew that it could work. They created a poster with the question: “What Can You Do without TV, Computers, and Video Games?” alongside blank lines for passersby to write down ideas. Maria also invited people to hula hoop and even got the CEO at the CHC to participate!

Another program that Maria started is called Family Fun Night, which takes place on evenings at Fitchburg’s Public Library. She invites children and parents to learn about exciting, low-cost activities that families can do instead of watching TV or using the computer. Kids picked out ideas from the “Fun Cup,” and created their own games to play. About 20 kids attended along with their parents and other volunteers. Attendees were enthusiastic about the event and planned on inviting their friends and families to the next Family Fun Night. Maria is scheduled to host an evening at the library once a month, and will continue to focus on each of the five Mass in Motion Kids behaviors.

The Mass in Motion Kids steering committee is excited to see Maria, Kristin, and other team members engage with the Fitchburg community on such a personal level. Making healthy lifestyle improvements to reduce childhood obesity can be very challenging, but creating a sense of excitement in and outside of the clinic, the new programs are setting a positive tone to make Mass in Motion Kids a reality.