Wholespire, SCDHEC Co-leads Healthy Palmetto for Collective Impact through Structured Partnership 

Wholespire, SCDHEC Co-leads Healthy Palmetto for Collective Impact through Structured Partnership 

Healthy Palmetto

In strategic partnership with SC Department of Health and Environmental Control Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity Prevention (SCDHEC DNPAO), Wholespire is pleased to co-lead Healthy Palmetto, the state coalition of organizations that collectively addresses healthy eating, active living and healthy weight for the Live Healthy SC State Health Improvement Plan. Wholespire assists in leading a coordinated effort to unify and mobilize organizations working on healthy eating and active living efforts in the state.

“We are proud to be a leader of leaders in the healthy eating and active living sector of public health. When we were invited to take a leading role with this collaboration, it made perfect sense to us because the partnership complements our strategic intention to foster statewide collective success with diverse stakeholders,” said Meg Stanley, executive director of Wholespire.

Since 2007, Wholespire has nurtured and maintained relationships with organizations and leaders across the state, creating a credible reputation as experts in policy, systems and environmental change and thought leaders in public health innovation. A unique aspect of Wholespire is its ability to advocate to elected officials.

Wholespire works closely with the SCDHEC DNPAO and Healthy Palmetto partners to achieve better health for all South Carolinians as outlined in the SC State Health Improvement Plan. The coordinated effort aims to:

  • Minimize the duplication of work,
  • Elevate and connect the expertise of its unique partners,
  • Facilitate learning through information sharing and discussion, and
  • Involve and engage all partner organizations in healthy eating and active living efforts.

“When multiple organizations are focusing on the same community health improvement strategies, communication and coordination becomes imperative for ensuring our communities’ needs are being met,” said Stanley. “This type of collective leads to a greater impact.”

Using national recommendations from Trust for America’s Health State of Obesity Report, the Leadership Council identified six priority areas that partners are currently implementing:

  • Improve Outdoor Environments in Early Childhood Settings: Support the efforts of Grow Outdoors SC to transform early childhood outdoor spaces into diverse, naturalized environments that spark play and learning.
  • Prioritize Physical Activity in Schools: Support SC FitnessGram partners to improve student health by enhancing physical education (PE) and creating more opportunities for physical activity before, during, and after school.
  • Promote Trail Connectivity: Support the development of a SC trails coalition to increase trail connectivity in South Carolina and promote the use of trails and walking paths through increased knowledge and outreach.
  • Expand Awareness of WIC: Expand awareness of the benefits and services of the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program to increase enrollment of eligible participants.
  • Increase Senior Enrollment in SNAP: Support the SC Department on Aging and SC Thrive to increase enrollment of eligible older adults in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) through community-based outreach and marketing initiatives targeted towards older adults as well as training for SNAP counselors/community workers.
  • Increase Access to Healthy Food: Support the SC Food Policy Council to strengthen local food systems in South Carolina, address food insecurity through the health care system by expanding screening and referral tools and resources, and explore strategies to address community design for physical activity and access to healthy food.

Healthy Palmetto is comprised of statewide organizations including Alliance for a Healthier Generation, Alliance for a Healthier South Carolina, Clemson University School of Public Health, Diabetes Free SC/ BlueCross BlueShield of SC®, Grow Outdoors SC, SC Department of Education Office of Health and Nutrition, SC DHEC Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity Prevention, SC FitnessGram, SC Food Policy Council, SC Hospital Association, SC Office of Rural Health, SC Recreation and Parks Association, SC Trails Coalition, SC Women, Infants, and Children Nutrition Program, SNAP for Seniors, University of South Carolina Children’s Physical Activity Research Group, University of South Carolina SNAP-Ed Implementing Agency and Wholespire.

New Data Reveals Decline in Health of South Carolina’s Children During COVID-19 Pandemic, Disproportionate Effects Noted on Minority Populations

New Data Reveals Decline in Health of South Carolina’s Children During COVID-19 Pandemic, Disproportionate Effects Noted on Minority Populations

COLUMBIA, S.C. – The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), in partnership with the University of South Carolina and the BlueCross® BlueShield® of South Carolina Foundation, has released a new SC FitnessGram data report, revealing a steady decline in student health throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

The SC FitnessGram assessment is a comprehensive physical fitness test that evaluates various components of fitness, including aerobic capacity, muscular strength, flexibility, and body composition. The test is administered by school PE teachers in grades 2, 5, 8, and high school in participating schools across South Carolina. 

In keeping with the declines in health noted in the study, participation in the study also declined from 64 districts in 2018-19 to just 52 in 2020-21, and of those 52 districts, only 21 districts had high-enough student participation data to be considered responsive. This study reflects data from those districts, which represent 48,154 students, 58% of whom qualify as living in poverty according to the U.S. Census Bureau

The report shows the percentage of children in the “Healthy Weight Category” decreased from 65% pre-pandemic to 59% post-pandemic, and the percentage of students in the “Healthy Fitness Zone” for cardiorespiratory fitness (i.e., heart and lung function) declined from 60% pre-pandemic to 51% post-pandemic. 

There were also several disparities present in the data:

  • A disproportionate number of Black and Hispanic children scored lower on all testing than their White peers;
  • Students living in poverty are less likely to achieve the Healthy Fitness Zone; and
  • The percentage of students in the Healthy Fitness Zone decreases from elementary to middle to high school.

“This stark decline when students are not in the school setting, particularly for marginalized populations, proves that students are much more physically active when attending school in person,” said Dr. Brannon Traxler, DHEC public health director. “These numbers show us just how important the role of public schools is to our children’s overall health, and schools should continue to promote physical activity before, during, and after school. We have a lot of ground to make up.”

Dr. Russ Pate of the USC Arnold School of Public Health and his team at the Children’s Physical Activity Research Group has been analyzing the SC FitnessGram data since its inception in 2014 and producing statewide reports of the data annually.

“These findings add to the growing body of evidence showing that the COVID pandemic harmed children’s health by depriving them of the physical activity that they normally receive in the school setting,” Pate said

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, healthy children are less likely to develop chronic health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease at a young age. The health of children also has a direct impact on academic capabilities. Children who are within a healthy weight range tend to have better memory, attention spans and self-esteem compared to those who are overweight or obese. 

Breonna Mealing, SC FitnessGram Coordinator, said the connection of childhood health to the workforce of tomorrow can’t be underestimated.

“Even within the Career and Technical Education offerings for South Carolina students, there are many jobs that require physical fitness such as construction, the military, manufacturing, transportation and corrections,” Mealing said. “While offering these pathways to our students is important, equally as important is ensuring students are physically capable to take on those jobs once they graduate.”  

The critical data SC FitnessGram produces each year is used to support programs and policies in public schools that will improve the health of our children. However, schools alone cannot bear all of the burden. 

“We are calling on not only schools, but community organizations, parents, community members, and students themselves to play a role in the movement for daily physical activity,” Mealing said. “Not everyone can do everything, but everyone can do something.” 

Visit SC FitnessGram at scdhec.gov/fitnessgram for the full data report and summary and to learn more about how you can support the movement to support students’ health from head to heart.