Childhood obesity is a problem of epidemic proportions in Alabama. But through a revolutionized approach to physical education, a six-time world champion athlete and former stuntwoman may have just figured out a solution.
In 2002, Christy Swaid founded HEAL (Healthy Eating Active Living), a Birmingham-based organization that seeks to revolutionize the physical education curriculum found in U.S. elementary schools. Through HEAL, standard gym time becomes a personal training experience.
And of all people, Swaid has a lot of experience on the topic. As a six-time professional watercraft racing champion and former stuntwoman and a mother of two, HEAL has become a means of bridging her two passions: fitness and the health and well-being of her children.
“HEAL is a spin-off of trying to be good at being a mother, which is the toughest extreme sport I think I’ve ever engaged in and the most fun,” she told AL.com.
Once the organization took off, HEAL began a pilot program in 10 elementary schools. According to the website, approximately 75% of the children who participated improved their fitness and a staggering 100% were making healthier eating choices.
Now, HEAL operates in more than 95 Alabama schools, serving more than 17,500 students. While HEAL is meant to provide a solid and formative foundation for healthy living, it’s also meant to be fun for the kids, helping them to achieve the CDC recommended 60 minutes of activity a day through lifestyle changing instruction. Through HEAL, physical education teachers are trained on a number of facets of the curriculum, including health education, physical education, nutrition services, health promotion for staff, and family involvement.
And so far, HEAL’s success has not gone unnoticed.
“HEAL is a valuable tool for schools in Alabama that helps all students to enjoy physical activity, learn healthy food habits, and gain self confidence,” said Molly Killman, director of nutrition and physical activity for the Alabama Department of public health.