The League Pulse

The Junior League of Kansas City, Missouri: women building better communities.

The Junior League: making an impact on children’s nutrition and fitness

By: Gina Stingley, Community Impact Director

According to a new report out by the American Medical Association, one third of Americans are considered obese, and, perhaps more alarmingly, childhood obesity has tripled in our country in just one generation.

But the childhood obesity epidemic isn’t in someone else’s neighborhood. It’s in ours.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks Missouri and Kansas as the 10th and 11th most overweight and obese states in the country. In the Kansas City area, nearly one in three children is considered overweight or obese.

“We need to get physical activity back into everyone’s lives, starting with our kids. We need to get them moving in school and after school. We need to get them eating healthy foods in appropriate amounts,” Dr. Richard Besser, the chief health and medical correspondent for ABC News, said about the report.

The Junior League of Kansas City, Missouri, has taken note. Since 2010, the League has focused on children’s nutrition and fitness issues in our community in a variety of ways. Our signature project, Healthy U, is a partnership with Harvesters and University Academy to help students and their families understand the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.  provide 230 BackSnacks each week to students to ensure they have healthy snacks over the weekend; we host 12 yearly Family Dinners, which are hands-on cooking and education sessions on healthy eating habits; and we have adopted classrooms where we teach new exercises like yoga and pilates.

Our work reaches even further into the community. Since 2010, we have given more than $500,000 and 20,000 volunteer hours to various community agencies focused on creating healthier lifestyles for children. Just a snapshot of that impact includes:

–          Providing 230 pairs of gloves to University Academy students so they can play outside in colder months;

–          Purchasing nine bicycles for the students at Kansas City Academy; additionally 15% of the students’ lunch food comes from the League-funded garden at the school;

–          Offering 785 students at Academie Lafayette to fresh fruit daily;

–          Expanding the garden at Operation Breakthrough;

–          Providing funding and volunteer support for Children’s Mercy’s PHIT Kids program, which has helped nearly 75% of children enrolled in the program to lower their BMI percentile; and

–          Coaching four teams of 3rd-8th grade girls through their first 5K this spring through the Girls on the Run of Greater Kansas City program.

“The grant from the Junior League has exponentially built our capacity to deliver high quality interventions from families,” said Meredith Dreyer Gillette, PhD, Associate Director for Children’s Healthy Lifestyles and Nutrition at Children’s Mercy Hospital. “We benefit tremendously from the volunteer and financial support in order to run our programs effectively and with as low of a staff cost as possible.”

It may have taken a generation to triple obesity efforts. But with hope, here in our community at least, the Junior League’s programs are helping to reverse that trend at a much quicker pace.

picture: League members teach children the importance of healthy choices.

Members of the 2012-13 New Member class designed and implemented a lesson on healthy choices for a second grade classroom at University Academy.

League members stuff 230 BackSnacks with healthy food items each week to distribute to children who may not have access to nutritional food on the weekends.

League members stuff 230 BackSnacks with healthy food items each week to distribute to children who may not have access to nutritional food on the weekends.

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