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HEAL, Inc., founder Christy Swaid named 2016 Outstanding Woman in the Community

March 17, 2016

Christy Swaid, founder of HEAL, Inc.® (Healthy Eating, Active Living) fitness and nutrition education program, has been honored by the UAB Commission on the Status of Women with the 2016 Outstanding Woman in the Community award in recognition of her having made it easier for other women to succeed, taken a courageous stance, overcome adversity to achieve her goals, and provided significant service to women.

When Mrs. Swaid retired from a career in sports and fitness and subsequently moved to Alabama in 2002, she discovered that it was one of the top three states for obesity, diabetes, and hypertension, with one of the fastest-growing rates of type 2 diabetes among children. As a wife and mother, she found these statistics alarming and directed her passion for serving toward improving children’s health, facing down any resistance to being viewed an outsider in her adopted state. The courage of her convictions led her to collaborate with Donna J. Hester, PhD, associate professor of physical education at UAB; Donna L. Dunaway, EdD, professor of physical education at Samford University; and Bonnie A. Spear, PhD, RD, professor of pediatrics and nutrition at UAB, to establish a nine-month curriculum-based initiative, incorporated into the daily lessons of physical education classrooms in elementary schools throughout Alabama, which provides teachers with the tools and services needed to help children get their 60 minutes of daily physical activity and develop healthful eating habits for life. A family component is included to get all members engaged in the learning process, thus supporting students’ efforts as well as ultimately bettering the family unit overall. In the initial six-month pilot—launched and evaluated with fifth-grade physical education classrooms at 10 Alabama schools—75 percent of participating children showing improved fitness, 57 percent of those considered overweight and obese reduced their body mass index, and 100 percent reported improvements in healthful eating. The program currently serves 100 schools throughout Alabama, including approximately 18,000 children with a curriculum expanded to include second through fifth grades.

HEAL is designed to inform students about disease prevention and health benefits through healthful lifestyle behaviors, including regular exercise, balanced nutrition, limited screen-time, and adequate rest. “We make it fun to get in the zone by utilizing heart rate technology in the program and allowing students to work independently, safely, and effectively. It allows all children to benefit, regardless of their level of fitness,” says Mrs. Swaid.

In addition to creating a teacher enrichment/personal training component so that HEAL educators are equipped to lead by example, she has given young female students from UAB and Samford University an opportunity to intern for HEAL to help them with professional development and career choices in the fields of nutrition and health. Approximately 200 physical education teachers have received HEAL personal and professional training and support, and approximately 80 percent of the teachers enrolled are women.

In order to bring this vision to reality, Mrs. Swaid had to overcome many obstacles—namely, communicating her vision to people in decision-making positions, acquiring funding, finding people with expertise in the different areas of the program, finding and organizing volunteers, and not accepting the answer no from people and organizations wary of taking a chance on something new. Science-based outcomes combined with personal testimonies have made the program a curriculum of choice for the Alabama State Department of Education and the Alabama Department of Public Health for empowering schools to fulfill their federal wellness requirements. And with more than 100 schools on a waiting list and a nationwide rollout plan, HEAL is poised to distinguish Alabama as having established a comprehensive solution to our nation’s most threatening epidemic.