Gender-specific physiological and behavioral differences in PHS students

Graph of Health Behaviors of Boys and Girls at Baseline

Prior research has shown differences in physiologic and behavioral measurements of adolescent boys and girls. The PHS team sought to determine if similar gender-specific differences exist between PHS participants before and after the program.

Health behavior data from 19,959 sixth graders (49.2% girls) and physiologic data from 2,922 sixth graders (52.8% girls) were collected between 2004-2017. Prior to the PHS program, girls had lower HDL cholesterol and higher resting and recovery heart rates, but reported greater consumption of fruits and vegetables and less sugary beverages and fried meats than boys. Boys reported more vigorous exercise but greater hours of television and video game screen time than girls. After the PHS program, girls showed greater improvement in resting heart rate, fruit consumption and video game time than boys.

With the exception of physical activity and mobile device screen time, girls had generally healthier behaviors; however, they also had poorer physiological measures before the PHS program. The lower rates of physical activity and worse resting and recovery heart rates in girls highlight a potential area of focus for the PHS intervention.

Graph showing the relationship between Health Behaviors of Boys and Girls.
Prior to the PHS program, health behavior and physiologic data from middle-school students identified healthier behaviors in girls compared with boys, with the exception of physical activity and mobile device screen time. Girls, however, had poorer HDL cholesterol, resting and recover heart rates, identifying a potential area of focus for the PHS intervention.

Safe Routes to School grant funds bike education for under-served and disabled students

PHS is partnering with Programs to Educate All Cyclists (PEAC) to provide opportunities for increased physical activity through biking and bike education programing for under-served K-8 students and students with disabilities within the cities of Detroit and Ypsilanti. Eight schools will participate in the program, including: Dixon Educational Learning Academy, Hope of Detroit Academy, Paul Robeson Malcolm X Academy, Summit Academy North Middle School, University Prep Art & Design Middle School, University Preparatory Science and Math Middle School, Washtenaw International Middle Academy, Ypsilanti Community Middle School.

Schools may choose from three programs: 1) The Physical Education Bicycle Unit that provides a one-week bike education and safety class; 2) The Earn-A-Bike Program which is an afterschool program that teaches students bike maintenance and bike safety, and upon completion, students may keep their bikes; or 3) The Bike Library Program where students “check out” a bike on a daily basis to get to and from school. In addition to the other educational opportunities, walking and biking to school days will be available.

Funding for this collaborative endeavor is provided by a Safe Routes to School grant from the Michigan Fitness Foundation.

Nine new schools starting BHC:PHS program

Nine new schools are starting the Building Healthy Communities: Engaging Middle Schools through Project Healthy Schools program this fall. The new schools include:

  • American Montessori Academy Upper Campus, Westland
  • Beacon Day Treatment, Southgate
  • Detroit Community Elementary/ Middle School, Detroit
  • East Middle School, Farmington Hills
  • Farmington STEAM Academy, Farmington Hills
  • OJ DeJonge Middle School, Ludington
  • St Clare of Montefalco, Grosse Pointe Park
  • Swan Valley Middle School, Saginaw
  • Warner Middle School, Farmington Hills

Building Healthy Communities is a partnership between Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and the University of Michigan and Wayne State University’s Center for Health and Community Impact. The three Farmington Hills schools are funded by a grant from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund.

PHS Introduces a New Website & Logo


PHS is introducing a new website and logo. You may have noticed the new logo in this newsletter’s header.

The new website provides a user-friendly platform for those interested in learning more about PHS and Building Healthy Communities and includes more resources for families.

PHS is beginning to replace the old logo and transition to a maize and blue color scheme on all materials. The new website features the new logo and the maize and blue color scheme.

Grant supports partnership for a district-wide model for school wellness


University of Michigan’s Project Healthy Schools and Wayne State University’s Center for Health and Community Impact recently partnered to receive a two year, $500,000 Nutrition and Healthy Lifestyles grant from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund.

The collaboration will expand on the success of the Building Healthy Communities program by creating a district-wide model for school wellness, bringing nutrition and physical activity programing to all the elementary and middle school students in a school district. The grant will also enhance the technological platforms for the Building Healthy Communities program at both the Center for Health and Community Impact and PHS to provide evidence-based resources to as broad an audience as possible, providing more support for parents, communities and other stakeholder groups. Many thanks to the Health Fund for supporting Building Healthy Communities, PHS and the Center for Health and Community Impact in this innovative collaboration. Stay tuned for updates in future newsletters.

See what is Cooking at Grass Lake


To encourage a healthier community, Grass Lake hosted after-school cooking classes for students in grades 6th, 7th, & 8th. The cooking classes were offered approximately once per month and cost about $125 in materials per class. Each class held about 25 students. Participants learned about food preparation, where to obtain local produce, and were introduced to healthy recipes. These simple and fun recipes utilized fresh produce from local sources. Overall, the Grass Lake cooking classes were a hit to those who attended; students showed interest in learning how to cook independently and trying new fruits and vegetables. Grass Lake continues to offer the cooking classes at a cost of $5 per student for each class they attend. Going forward, the wellness teams are looking at ways in order to expand this opportunity in hopes that more students and families could benefit.

PHS Long-Distance Model Effective in Upper Peninsula Schools

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP), which contains only 3% of the state’s population, uses the long-distance model of Project Healthy Schools, while schools participating in PHS within 100 miles of Ann Arbor use the local model. With the local model, PHS staff visit schools at least once per month to provide assistance with wellness initiatives and participate in meetings at the school. In contrast, schools utilizing the long-distance model are visit-ed by PHS staff twice per year for training in the fall and a wrap-up in the spring. All other staff assistance and guidance is telecommunicated, approximately once per month. All schools, local and long-distance, are provided access to the PHS Portal, which contains the PHS health curriculum, resources for wellness champions and school staff, and open discussion forums.

To evaluate the effectiveness of the long-distance model, the PHS research team compared the demographics and health behaviors pre- and post-intervention of UP and local students participating in PHS since 2014. Of 21,459 students, 695 (3.2%) were from the UP and utilizing the long-distance model. UP students were less racially diverse (82.1% white v. 64.1%, p=0.001) and more likely to be from low (39.4% v. 31.1%, p<0.001) or middle (60.6% v. 35.0%, p<0.001) socioeconomic status (SES) communities than local students.
Despite the larger proportion of low SES students, at baseline, UP students appeared to have better health behaviors than local students (i.e. more fruits and vegetables, more moderate exercise, and less screen time). Following the PHS intervention, health behaviors improved in both groups; no significant differences were seen in health behavior improvement between UP and local students (see Figure 1). This suggests that the local and long-distance delivery models are equally effective in influencing health behaviors and adds support for utilizing long-distance models to implement school-based wellness interventions in remote communities.

Vaping 101 and best practices are highlights of Wellness Champion Gathering


The 2019 Fall Wellness Champion Gathering will probably be most remembered by attendees for the 10 inches of snow that fell in Ann Arbor on November 11. Despite the snow, 23 PHS wellness champions from across the state gathered at the Michigan League to network; hear the latest PHS updates; share best practices; and learn about hot topics in school health, such as vaping and Farm to School.
After a welcome by cardiologist and PHS Founder Kim Eagle, M.D., Lena Gray from the U-M’s MHealthy Tobacco Consultation Services provided an enlightening Vaping 101 presentation. She talked about what vapes look like, the prevalence of vaping among youth, the impact it has on teen health, and how to talk to students about the dangers of vaping. She also provided attendees with links to a number of online resources to share with students who want to quit vaping.

Next, Susan Lahti, the wellness champion at Boyne City Middle fall Wellness Champion Gathering.
School, shared the health education best practices taking place at
her school. The PHS lessons are taught in the fifth grade at this K – 8 school. Lahti, the fifth-grade math and science teacher, often gives students additional projects related to the lessons, such as creating a bulletin board showing the healthy goals set by their families, or having students create and film skits that incorporate the advertising tricks and techniques learned in the Assessing Advertising lesson.
Now in their fourth year of the PHS program, Boyne City holds several district-wide initiatives, including an Apple Crunch Day, both bike and walk to school days, staff vs student games, staff wellness events, and more. Grade-level specific wellness initiatives such as fall and spring hikes, a visit to a farmer’s market, an exercise day, and a field day are held for fifth graders. In addition, the fifth graders help tend the school garden and hoop house and use the vegetables for food tastings. Three- and four-year-olds in the district’s early learning program help harvest the produce during the summer. The school also started a Youth Advisory Committee that brings ideas to the Board of Education for approval. So far, at the committee’s request, the board provided water bottles for all the students and installed water bottle filling stations. They also approved modifications to the school lunch menu to substitute healthier choices.
The day concluded with a self-care presentation by Jill Castro from U-M’s Faculty and Staff Counseling and Consultation Office, followed by a Farm to School presentation by PHS Coordinator Jana Stewart and Neha Shah, a teacher in the Ann Arbor Public Schools.

A Second Chance for Breakfast at Portland Middle School


The Project Healthy Schools’ wellness team at Portland Middle School introduced “Second Chance Breakfast”: an alternative service model to allow more students the opportunity to eat breakfast. Eating a healthy breakfast helps students be more prepared to learn. Students picked up grab-and-go items from the cafeteria, or a mobile food cart, to bring back and eat in their classroom. The result was a 700% increase in their breakfast participation at the first run-through. Following this success, over 200 students continued to be served breakfast either through Before School Breakfast or Second Chance Breakfast. Food Service Director, Steve Pell saw astonishing results, stating, “Doubling the student breakfast counts would have been great, but an increase in participation by 4 or 5 times has exceeded our expectations. Our Food Service staff has been excited to see the large student turnouts for the Second Chance Breakfast.”

Half of the schools on Schools to Watch list use PHS

Eight out of 16 schools on the current Michigan Schools to Watch list used Project Healthy Schools. Most of these schools started PHS as part of the Building Healthy Communities partnership. Michigan Schools to Watch is part of a nationwide network that identifies and recognizes excellence in middle-grades schools. Schools to Watch are chosen for their academic excellence, developmental responsiveness, social equity and organizational structures and processes. The following PHS schools are on the Schools to Watch list:

• Clague Middle School, Ann Arbor – 2017-2020
• East Middle School, Plymouth – 2017-2020
• E.F. Rittmueller Middle School, Frankenmuth – 2019-2022
• Marshall Greene Middle School, Birch Run – 2017-2020
• Mt. Morris Middle School, Mt. Morris – 2018-2021
• Richfield Public School Academy Middle School, Flint – 2017-2020
• Slauson Middle School, Ann Arbor – 2019-2022
• White Pine Middle School, Saginaw – 2006-2022

East Middle School and White Pine Middle School, as well as St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School were also 2019 winners of the Best and Brightest in Wellness. Congratulations to all of these schools for this much deserved recognition for your commitment to excellence.