College of Medicine awarded grant to promote healthy lifestyles

Effort to focus on Lebanon and Berks counties
A man, a woman, and two children smile as they run through a park. trees and a fence are in the background.
Credit: iStock/oscarhdez

Penn State College of Medicine has received a nearly $4 million grant to promote healthy lifestyles and improve nutrition for Hispanic people living in Berks and Lebanon counties. The award is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s REACH project and will be administered locally by Penn State PRO Wellness, a collaboration between the College of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics and Penn State Children’s Hospital.

PRO Wellness is working with Better Together, a Lebanon County organization, as well as Penn State Berks and Penn State Health St. Joseph to reduce health disparities related to nutrition and physical activity among Hispanics living in Lebanon and Reading. The grant will help PRO Wellness establish healthy nutrition standards in Lebanon and Reading, provide healthier food access at community venues and increase electronic benefit transfer acceptance. It will also help create bilingual hospital-based breastfeeding programming and support with Women, Infant and Children (WIC).

To improve opportunities for physical activity, PRO Wellness and partners will promote existing and new trails for walking and biking that connect parks, schools, businesses and community facilities. The grant will also support improvement of Lebanon and Reading’s recreational infrastructure to increase school involvement in physical activities, as well as expand diabetes prevention program offerings and train local, bilingual community health workers to connect individuals with chronic disease prevention programs.

The Better Together initiative, founded by philanthropist Jeanne Arnold, a former nurse and hospital administrator in Lebanon County, creates opportunities for better health and quality of life by aligning state agencies, schools, community-based organizations and policymakers to reduce obesity rates.

“Better Together’s goal is a healthier community for all. We know from research that Hispanic people are more likely to experience a higher prevalence of chronic diseases than non-Hispanic whites, and in Lebanon and Reading, Hispanics also experience higher levels of poverty, unemployment and a lack of health insurance than the state and national averages,” Arnold said. “This grant will provide resources to unite organizations, ideas and endeavors to address these issues.”

Dr. Jennifer Kraschnewski, executive director of PRO Wellness and associate professor of medicine, pediatrics and public health sciences at the College of Medicine, and Dr. William Calo, assistant professor of public health sciences at the College of Medicine, will co-lead the project.

“Penn State Health is proud to be a partner in this important endeavor for our region,” said Dr. A. Craig Hillemeier, dean of Penn State College of Medicine, CEO of Penn State Health and senior vice president for health affairs at Penn State. “Multiple community health needs assessments have prioritized chronic diseases, obesity and inadequate nutrition as areas of concern in Lebanon and Reading. Working together, we will improve nutrition and access to physical activities to better the overall health for residents of these areas.”

Penn State PRO Wellness is committed to education and inspiring youth and their families to eat well, engage in regular physical activity and become champions for bringing healthy choices to life.