Meet Karin Wetherill, Wellness Coordinator for the Rhode Island Healthy Schools Coalition and consultant on the American Heart Association’s Voices for Healthy Kids grant. Since 2002, Karin has worked with Kids First, the RI Healthy Schools Coalition, the American Heart Association, the Rhode Island State Department of Education and other groups involved in childhood obesity prevention initiatives.
What inspired you to start working on childhood obesity?
I started at Kids First and I felt strongly about obesity and kids being healthy and having a healthy weight. I wanted kids to have access to and enjoy healthy foods and physical activity. I have always felt like it was a social justice issue. Children may not be in an environment or a situation to access a safe place to play. I want each kid to have access to this and have education about the importance of being physically active. I do all of my work in the school setting. I think all children need a knowledge base about why physical activity is important, and I want schools to support them and have them practice these behaviors. I also want kids to teach their parents about what they learn in schools because that could change the knowledge of their parents.
How are you helping to reverse childhood obesity?
The RI Healthy Schools Coalition wants schools to have a strong wellness policy, and clear direction on what practices schools will have to do to support their policies and apply them practically. At the state level, we are working on state legislation so that there are clear and supportive laws for wellness policies, especially around competitive foods, marketing and advertising. I also want to see strong laws so that we can support the work that local districts are doing.
What’s your biggest accomplishment so far in helping reduce childhood obesity?
The work I’m doing in schools is in a critical setting. All kids are in schools where they have access to education and an environment that hopefully supports health and wellbeing. I am proud of the school and state legislation work. I believe that we will advance this work top down and bottom up. We worked with school districts to create strong comprehensive wellness policies and we wanted input from parents, students and building administrators.
What do you look forward to most about your job?
I look forward to the community collaboration. I love the networking and making connections for people. It is fun to bring people together to craft solutions and make changes in schools. I love doing that every day.
What healthy snacks did you enjoy growing up?
It is a little challenging, because as a kid of the 60s and 70s, we ate a lot of a processed food. Now, in my adulthood, it is very important to me to have a healthy fitness routine and healthy diet. I love to pick blueberries and strawberries at the local berry farms. I am glad that my children grew up differently. I want people to get back to growing and eating natural food.
The Rhode Island Healthy Schools Coalition was founded in 2002. Since that time, they have grown into a membership organization of about 100 community partners, made up of individuals and organizations (including the American Heart Association), and have recently reenergized and reorganized. RIHSC works to support schools in becoming healthier environments, specifically focusing on nutrition, physical education and physical activity. RIHSC currently works with 36 school districts. They provide best practices, they host a symposium for school leaders in September, and according to Karin, they “especially want to reach the leaders in the schools and provide education, research, understanding of laws and regulations, and tools that they can use. We want everyone to walk away with something that they can take back to their schools to help.” RIHSC is connected with district wellness committees throughout the state. For more information visit www.rihsc.org.