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Nonprofits play critical role in community health

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In Missouri City, Texas, a program called Soul Food Makeover is working to educate African Americans about the link between unhealthy eating and disease, and ways to prepare healthier versions of traditional meals.

In Los Angeles, at-risk teenagers are working with Students Run America, a marathon and mentoring program that helps teens prepare for the L.A. Marathon while learning the importance of a healthy diet.

And in Tampa, Florida, a group called Seniors In Service Of Tampa Bay Inc. is providing healthy snacking and physical activities for elementary school-aged children, while encouraging healthy eating and active living among the senior volunteers who run the program.

Spread across the United States, these three programs and more than 100 others have one thing in common. They are community-focused nonprofits using grants from the Aetna Foundation to foster healthier lifestyles through better nutrition and greater physical activity. The grants – which total nearly $3.5 million — were awarded in 2013.

In 2014, the Aetna Foundation followed up with a regional grants program called GoLocal: Cultivating Healthy Communities.

The grants were part of the Foundation’s broader goal to build healthier communities, a healthier nation and a healthier world, according to Dr. Garth Graham, president of the Aetna Foundation. “Nonprofit partners can be very effective proponents of nutrition and motion – two critical ingredients that can deliver meaningful, measurable health improvements for individuals, families and communities,” he said.

Grants made under the GoLocal: Cultivating Healthy Communities program supported community initiatives that promoted eating fresh fruits and vegetables and being physically active, which can help to prevent obesity and many chronic health conditions. The grants focused on supporting initiatives in underserved, low-income and minority communities where healthy food can be difficult to buy, and where social and environmental factors may limit people’s ability to be physically active.

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