Highmark: Health a priority for minorities

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The Highmark Foundation recently released the results of their $100 million 5-year Healthy High Five initiative. Among the report’s many findings, announced at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture on March 22, was the revelation that minority parents were more concerned with health than the general population surveyed throughout the initiative.

“We have this knowledge, but we have to make it actionable,” said Yvonne Cook, president of the Highmark Foundation. “We often think that people just aren’t that interested in these subjects, but as it turns out, our minority parents are extremely interested. There’s really an interest in, how do I get information for my child.”

YvonneCook
YVONNE COOK

The Healthy High Five initiative looked at children’s health in five areas: nutrition, physical activity, bullying prevention, self-esteem, and grieving. Through a series of programs, Highmark was able to increase parent awareness in these key areas by 35 percent.

“It’s not just about a program; it’s about creating that culture of health and wellness,” said R. Yvonne Campos, CEO of Campos Inc., a market research strategy firm. “We noticed there was a difference between parents and minority parents. We found minority parents were more concerned with these five areas than the general population.”

Among the many nutrition and physical activity programs implemented across the state, Highmark provided grants to LearntobeHealthy, KidShape and Health eTools for Schools in an effort to reduce child obesity. Obesity has become a devastating problem in the Black community where two in five African-Americans face diabetes; and heart disease and stroke have become the first and third-leading causes of death among the African-American population.

“For far too long, health has been on the road less traveled. We’d like it to be along the path of least resistance,” said guest speaker Dr. David Katz, director and co-founder of the Yale Prevention Research Center who was recognized as one of America’s top physicians in preventative medicine.

The event’s second guest speaker was Horacio Sanchez, president and CEO of Resiliency Inc., a consultancy aimed at improving education for the most difficult to serve children. As a behavior specialist, Sanchez’s address looked at how health can impact a child’s behavior.

“If you ritualize something, your brain will make it more familiar. You diet can improve a lot of things,” Sanchez said. “We found that if you had a more balanced diet, your test scores and performance throughout the day was better.”

Another component of Highmark’s initiative was a bullying prevention program, which impacted 210,000 students across Pennsylvania. Among them were students from Woodland Hills High School, who were still suffering from racial tensions 30 years after a government mandated merger aimed at desegregating schools in 12 municipalities east of Pittsburgh.

“A few years ago at Woodland Hills High School, students’ behavioral issues marred the entire school’s reputation. School spirit falters, fights grew too common and incidents of bullying left some afraid to attend school,” the Highmark report says. “Woodland Hills found a solution through the Foundation’s initiative to prevent bullying.”

Highmark’s bullying effort is the largest implementation of the globally recognized Olweus Bullying Prevention Program in the United States.

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