Childhood obesity: Alabama students, non-profit team up to tackle issue

Local News

VESTAVIA HILLS, Ala (WIAT) –  A local organization works with students across Alabama to teach healthy eating and exercise habits.

HEAL (Healthy Eating Active Living) Alabama aims to tackle childhood obesity, a major issue in Alabama. CEO and founder, Christy Swaid started the organization in 2002 with a vision to make Alabama a healthier place.

“HEAL was born in 2002 as a kitchen table conversation in Alabama and a dream to really create a rescue mission,” said Christy Swaid, ” Because so many children are on a path of certain disease because of unhealthy lifestyle behaviors. Basic things, just nutrition, and exercise.”

Christy Swaid says it’s critical that people adopt a healthy lifestyle at a young age. HEAL started in one school and now works in 155 schools in Alabama. HEAL serves 30,000 students and 85,000 thousand families. HEAL teaches students and their families the importance of being active and preparing healthy meals through a science-based curriculum.

“When we started, we started off just aiming at the children. But we realized the children can’t be successful without adults role modeling and supporting them,” said Christy Swaid, “So now we have built a curriculum that meets the needs of first grade all the way through college. And soon we will have an online certification where everyone can be part of the HEAL movement. And healthy eating, active living is a lot more fun when you do it together.”  

Medical professionals understand the role of exercise and healthy eating happens in all aspects of life. Christy Swaid’s husband, Dr. Swaid N Swaid is a neurosurgeon and witnesses first-hand how these issues impact their lives.

“We see a good number of patients who are not in the greatest shape. They do not exercise. And as a result of that other poor habits, nutrition, they gain a great deal of weight. And that causes a lot of musculoskeletal problems. So back pain becomes a common finding in people like that.” said Dr. Swaid N Swaid.

Dr. Jeannie Grubbs is a pharmacist. Her daughter Sydney participated in the HEAL program in high school. Grubbs says her daughter going through the program changed how her family viewed eating habits and physical activity. Grubb’s says she is grateful for the program because she understands the devastating impacts of unhealthy eating and lack of physical activity. 

“As a pharmacist, I see way too often, medications being prescribed in adult doses for children for chronic medical conditions that they should not be facing at such a young age,” said Grubbs. “We’re talking about type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure. And these patients are going to have a such a short, difficult, and expensive life ahead of them. And all of this was caused due to unhealthy choices. And I know a lot of these choices yes, are going to fall back on their parents making choices for them. But if we can equip and educate these patients at a young age, not only can we make an impact on them, but we can make an impact on their family. Just like it did for our family.”

HEAL is making a huge impact. The State of Alabama and Governor Kay Ivey recognized HEAL for its efforts in promoting healthy lifestyles and literacy through Christy Swaid’s book, “The Ultimate Treasure Hunt”. Christy Swaid says HEAL’s work is a key to success.

“We see our society is burdened with severe weight on our healthcare system that’s unsustainable. Which then affects the economy. And we know that if we can launch a child off of a healthy springboard, and help towards a career, we can affect health rankings, poverty rankings, we can improve military readiness. There are just so many different benefits. So I would just love if everyone could join the HEAL movement because if we do it together we can really change the culture and see a brighter future.” said Christy Swaid.

Medical professionals like Dr. Swaid N Swaid say it’s never too late to make healthy changes.

“I would tell people not to be discouraged because they hear about working out. It’s not about working out, it’s simply about getting some proper form of exercise. Which should not be very stressful, should be enjoyable. But as this is done regularly, this will result in great health benefits, and improve their condition.” said Dr. Swaid N Swaid.

HEAL continues to grow in Alabama and spread to other states. The organization has agreed to share its model with Arkansas. Other states are on a waiting list.

To learn more about HEAL Alabama, click here.

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