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'HEROES' Grants, Education Guide Support Youth Leaders Addressing Childhood Obesity Epidemic

Youth Service America, UnitedHealth Group Name Youth as 'First Responders'

in the Escalating Childhood Obesity Crisis

WASHINGTON, March 9 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In order to address the growing childhood obesity epidemic, Youth Service America (YSA) and UnitedHealth Group are supporting youth-led projects that focus on healthy lifestyles by awarding the UnitedHealth HEROES service-learning grants. The two national partners also published an educational guide to help young people and educators develop service-learning activities in their own communities.

Naming children and youth as 'first responders' to this national crisis, HEROES grants challenge youth to find solutions to a crisis that directly affects them. 109 youth-led projects in 15 states received grants that address the childhood obesity epidemic through direct action, such as providing exercise opportunities to children in lower grades; indirect action, such as researching diabetes and its causes and educating peers; and advocacy efforts, such as petitioning the school board to offer healthier cafeteria menu items.

In addition to the HEROES grants, YSA and UnitedHealth Group also published "First Responders: Youth Addressing Childhood Obesity Through Service-Learning". This online education module, available free of charge at, guides youth, educators, and service-learning coordinators through the process of developing obesity-related, service-learning projects with lesson plans and links to additional resources.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, the prevalence for obesity in children ages 6-11 and adolescents ages 12-19 rose from 6.5% to 17% and 5% to 17.6% respectively. Additionally, 80% of obese children at 10-15 years of age were still obese at 25 years old. (Data reflects reports ranging from 2002-2006. See for more information.)

"The response from applicants to the UnitedHealth HEROES program demonstrates that young people are ready to take control of their own lives and effect change in their communities," said Steve Culbertson, president and CEO of Youth Service America. "Children and youth are educating their peers and advocating for healthy life options. I am proud that this program supports and engages young leaders to solve the biggest health challenge they face growing up."

"We believe that as people become more aware of health issues through health literacy and advocacy initiatives they will make positive changes to live better lives ," said Rick Jelinek, CEO of AmeriChoice, a UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH) company. "We believe the UnitedHealth HEROES grants will empower teams of students to collaborate with teachers and community leaders to develop their own awareness programs that will make their schools and neighborhoods healthier. In reviewing the grant applications, we were inspired by the creative ideas our young people came up with to help fight obesity and encourage healthier living."

The HEROES service-learning projects are implemented during the spring semester and will culminate on YSA's 21st Global Youth Service Day (GYSD), April 24-26, 2009. GYSD provides an excellent opportunity for students to include their projects in a larger, international youth service movement that seeks to improve communities in all 50 states and in more than 100 countries.

YSA and UnitedHealth Group will offer a second round of UnitedHealth HEROES service-learning grants on August 1, 2009 for projects occurring during the 2009-2010 school year. For more information about the UnitedHealth HEROES program and upcoming grant deadlines, Global Youth Service Day, or to view the complete list of award winners, visit

Youth Service America improves communities by increasing the number and the diversity of children and youth, ages 5-25, serving in substantive roles. Founded in 1986, YSA is an international nonprofit resource center that partners with thousands of organizations in more than 100 countries to expand the impact of the youth service movement with families, communities, schools, corporations, and governments. For more information, visit

UnitedHealth Group ( is a diversified health and well-being company dedicated to making health care work better. Headquartered in Minneapolis, Minn., UnitedHealth Group offers a broad spectrum of products and services through six operating businesses: UnitedHealthcare, Ovations, AmeriChoice, OptumHealth, Ingenix, and Prescription Solutions. Through its family of businesses, UnitedHealth Group serves more than 70 million individuals nationwide.

Global Youth Service Day is the largest youth service event in the world and is a year-round effort to expand the impact of the youth service movement. The initiative launches new service organizations, policy changes, and sustainable service programs to create a culture of engaged youth. State Farm Companies Foundation is the presenting sponsor in the United States. Planning Tool Kits, Service-Learning Curriculum Guides, Classroom Posters, Micro-Finance Grants, and more are available for youth, parents, teachers, and organizations. To view a map of all GYSD projects, visit

SOURCE Youth Service America
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