Safeway awards grant to UC Berkeley public health school to combat obesity

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In an effort to tackle childhood obesity, the Safeway Foundation recently awarded the campus School of Public Health a grant to promote research aimed at bridging health care facilities and the community.

The campus will use its grant of $71,000 to launch a referral system to guide at-risk children to health resources, such as sports clubs, in San Francisco. The money is part of a more than $3 million initiative by the foundation and its partner to help launch grass-roots projects that jumpstart physical exercise and health-consciousness efforts among children.

The grant will go toward funding the development of an online referral system — headed by Kristine Madsen, an assistant professor at the School of Public Health — which allows health providers to directly connect children at risk of obesity to local organizations and track their progress in the program.

According to Patricia Crawford, director for the campus Center for Weight and Health, the United States has had the highest obesity rate in the world. Because of a “nationwide sedentary lifestyle,” it is difficult for at-risk children to follow the recommendations of their physicians, she said. Additionally, she said, physicians do not have time to check on each patient, making this program a “win-win” situation that streamlines the “cumbersome” process.

“(Madsen) is developing a system that really brings the community to the child rather than having these families go hunt down resources and reinvent the wheel,” Crawford said. “It’s a wonderful, accessible way to encourage that child to do something proactive.”

Currently, Madsen and her team are developing the software, which they hope to implement no later than January. The grant money will fund the development of the website database and ongoing research, conducted in part by her undergraduate and graduate students in the School of Public Health.

Madsen will use the program’s results to construct a referral system model that she hopes can be implemented by other clinics across the country.

Grant applicants were evaluated on the basis of innovation, sustainability and potential for immediate implementation.

This is the first year the Safeway Foundation, in partnership with Children’s Hospital and Research Center Oakland, has teamed with the School of Public Health. Patricia Wakimoto, the project coordinator overseeing projects funded by the initiative, said the foundation will track the progress of grant recipients throughout the year.

UC Berkeley received one of 19 grants given by the foundation. Other recipients include the Children’s Health Fund in San Francisco, which provides nutritional counseling and mental health services, and La Clinica de La Raza in Oakland, which facilitates health education and peer support sessions.

“These funds go toward programs offering ways to help families coping with childhood obesity as well as provide education and awareness,” said Wendy Gutshall, manager of public affairs for Safeway’s Northern California division. “It’s so important to give kids the opportunity for a healthy start in life.”

Contact Michelaina Johnson and Virgie Hoban at [email protected]