When the starting gun rang out at this year’s Flying Pig Marathon, kids from the Campbell County and RC Durr YMCAs would have been easy to spot in their sapphire T-shirts thanks to the Humana Foundation, even though some didn’t even make the trip across the bridge to Cincinnati.

The YMCA of Greater Cincinnati received grant money, part of $212,000 from the foundation based in Louisville, to combat childhood obesity in the U.S., where the problem’s related medical costs have reached $14 billion per year. The grants are part of Humana’s 2010 Future Without Childhood Obesity Initiative.

“We participated (in the Pig) to a limited degree last year,” says Sara Lewis, out-of-school time director for the YMCA of Greater Cincinnati, “but because of the grant, we were able to open it (the marathon) up to more kids and work directly with the Flying Pig committee. This year, we had our own colored T-shirts and were able to enhance the lead-up work. Kids worked on ‘hog logs’ to track their miles (one mile for every 30 minutes of physical activity) and many ran the last mile the day of the race.” Some raced in Cincinnati; others participated in events at the Campbell and Boone County locations.

“At The Humana Foundation, our goal is to support strategies that result in healthier children and families,” says Virginia Kelly Judd, executive director of the foundation. “By supporting curriculum-based health programming as well as the after-school programs focused on physical activity, nutrition and well-being, we are taking a step to curb this epidemic.”

That fits right in with the Y’s plans.

“One of our commitments has been to provide 30 minutes of physical activity a day to kids. It’s been one of our goals and pillars for a long time,” says Lewis.

Having Fun

But don’t tell the kids at Arnett Elementary School in Erlanger that they are part of an “initiative” or a “curriculum-based health program.”

They are too busy having fun, says Greg Payne, 21st Century Site Coordinator of Arnett. He has been running the activity-based after-school program for grades K-5 since August 2010, funded by the Humana grant and the 21st Century Community Learning Grant.

“I am getting comments from parents that kids are coming home and teaching their siblings and neighbor kids games they’ve learned here. When they come to pick up their kids, parents are finding all of us, instructors and kids alike, running around drenched with sweat. Out of the five days kids are here, they get at least a half hour of physical activity at least four of those days. We’re outside if it’s a nice day and inside in the gym if it’s not,” he says.

Grants have helped after-school programs incorporate pilates, yoga and zumba.

“We have archery materials and an instructor one day a week,” says Payne, “and Tuesdays we have a dance instructor come out. The kids are doing dance routines, exercising to music, having a blast.”

“We’re also offering activities for kids with differing skills, so no students are sitting on the sidelines,” says Lewis. “We’re encouraging kids to think about access and abilities and get them to think about fellow students ... what can we all do to get everyone to participate?”

Even traditional games get an update using a training program for instructors called CATCH (Coordinated Approach to Child Health) that incorporates nutrition and physical activity.

“You can only play ‘tag’ so many times,” says Payne. “Today’s ‘tag’ might include hula hoops, balls, whatever we can do to keep it fresh for them, to keep ’em moving and keep that lifestyle going,” he says.