After working grueling hours for a San Francisco tech company, Sarah Habib left to coach a girl’s elementary basketball team. Immediately, Habib says she noticed the unhealthy habits of many of her players and wanted to design a program to enable proper eating choices and improve their physical capabilities.
Her initial fitness plan morphed into the innovative nonprofit Mission2Move (M2M), which is billed as a “chronic stress prevention program” that uses movement, meditation, nutrition and community involvement to tackle the issue of childhood obesity and improve both academic and social performance in classrooms.
In 2017 Habib moved the program from San Francisco to Cincinnati to address childhood obesity in the Queen City, where it affects one in three children, according to a Community Health Assessment published by the Cincinnati Health Department. That’s higher than the national average of one in five children.
Through teacher professional development, school implementation and after-school programming in Cincinnati Public Schools, M2M hopes to build resilient children.
“By learning to meditate and move their body, students become better at coping with stress or negative thoughts,” Habib says. “It is often overlooked because it is not visible. Mental health is below the surface. You can see that a child is obese, but you cannot see with just your eyes that a child has many adverse childhood experiences or a lot of stress in their life.”
The program seeks to help teachers and health professionals improve physical education curriculums; it also teaches kids mindfulness through guided meditation and calming breathing techniques. They use a core set of drills based on a protocol by Z-Health — an approach to fitness that focuses on the body through the brain by teaching students how to strengthen their nervous system.
In 2017 the program went from teaching 100 students at one school to what is now over 1,000 students at 21 different Cincinnati Public Schools. In fall 2018, M2M launched an Amazon Alexa skill program that can be easily accessed on Amazon Echo in classrooms. It enables teachers to use the M2M movement and mindfulness techniques first-hand, without the need of additional staff members.
“It’s fun to watch, especially the younger kids, gain a better awareness of their bodies over the school year and develop some solid motor control skills,” says Dan Scheid, a University of Cincinnati student and M2M contract worker.
The program is unique in that it takes a holistic approach to fighting childhood obesity by going beyond exercise and nutrition — it teaches coping strategies that are linked to being able to better handle stress and increase mental well-being.
Habib says that by taking this approach, the program delves deeper. It considers factors like: What’s going on in someone’s life? Are they using food to cope with stress? Are there teachable tools that will allow them to cope with stress that might also decrease their food intake?
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) measure life-altering events such as abuse, violence and other traumatic events that have negative effects on children for the rest of their lives.
“If a child had three or more ACEs, it can take 10 years off of life expectancy,” Habib says. “This is preventable. The more coping strategies and resilience we build in kids, the less the effects of ACEs.”
Habib’s next move? Continuing to spread the word and bring national awareness to her program.
Come Sept. 15, M2M will hold their inaugural 5K run/3K walk at Ault Park. Every $25 raised will go toward sponsoring a child for the entirety of the school year.
“We are undoubtedly making an impact, most notably for the teachers and school communities,” UC’s Scheid says. “I think with more exposure and time to work with the CPS kids, we will be able to make a more profound impact on individual kid’s lives and teach them how to alleviate some of the constant pressures that they face as far as poverty and chronic stress are concerned.”
Learn more about Mission2Move at mission2move.org.