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Gimme Five: Tim Schwantes


It’s a timely coincidence that we were able to chat with Tim Schwantes, a program officer with Active Living By Design this month, as May is National Physical Fitness & Sports month. Being active is not just about playing sports or engaging in fitness in a compartmentalized way, says Tim. It’s about turning our built environment into a healthy one that engages our kids actively on a daily basis, and that will take a “multidisciplinary team” of experts and community members. Read on to learn about Tim, and you can also connect directly with Tim through his profile.

Name: Tim Schwantes
Title: Project Officer
Organization: Active Living By Design

What inspired you to start working on childhood obesity?

Just after college I was an AmeriCorps volunteer in Colorado. My team built and maintained trails in state and national parks for most of the week and worked in an elementary school one day a week. That experience allowed me to gain a deeper appreciation for nature, learn from doing, and feel a sense of pride (and privilege) from exercising my body. Yet, this was juxtaposition from many of the school children’s day-to-day routines and opportunities—or lack thereof. While likely well-intentioned, I noticed that decisions, environments and systems in place for children often did not prioritize positive physical and mental health in the name of “efficiency.” Since that initial aha! moment, I’ve learned so much more about the complex nature of the epidemic, yet I am still inspired that through great programs, evidence-based strategies and the willingness to take risks, we can reverse the trend.

How are you helping to reverse childhood obesity?

Both personally and professionally, I am committed to doing what I can. During the week at Active Living By Design, I get to work with communities locally (in North Carolina), regionally and nationally that are interested in making healthy changes to their local policies and the built environment. In order to reverse childhood obesity, we know that it will take the collaboration of many organizations, individuals and agencies across sectors. At Active Living By Design our multidisciplinary team has backgrounds that include public health, public policy, planning, community development, communications, nutrition, design, architecture, business and social work. Clearly, there is not a cookie-cutter fix to childhood obesity and having a variety of perspectives, lived experiences and expertise matters. Personally, I am the board vice-chair of a statewide nonprofit, Farmer Foodshare, which connects people who grow food with food insecure families and children. Lastly, I believe modeling healthy behaviors speaks volumes when we’re interacting with children, and I do what I can – without a need to call attention to it – in both social and professional settings.

What’s your biggest accomplishment so far in helping reduce childhood obesity?

From 2008-2014 Active Living By Design was the National Program Office for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities Initiative (read more about the initiative here). We had the privilege of working with 49 community partnerships across the country that were implementing policy and environmental changes to reverse childhood obesity. All together, they made more than 2,000 policy and environmental changes to prevent childhood obesity. While we provided technical assistance and coaching to the communities, they deserve the credit for their accomplishments. These communities each had their own unique context (e.g., geographically, politically, culturally), and what we learned from them we are now sharing with other communities. Even after the grant, many partnerships are still in place that are creating healthier environments to reverse childhood obesity in their communities.

Who is your role model in your work?

This is a tough question. I am inspired by so many of the advocates we work with in communities. Most of them are not doing this work for the money, but because it is their passion. Because they see the importance of raising healthy children. Because this is about the greater good than just “what’s in it for them.” The results of their work may not even come to fruition in their lifetime, but they see the value in carrying a vision and goal. Lastly, so many of the advocates we work with are giving voices to underrepresented populations who have often been left out of the conversation. The moral courage from community advocates like these encourages me to do the same every day.

What game or sport did you play growing up?

Growing up I enjoyed any activity that involved running, which is still true today. To me, there is nothing better than the feeling you get from running: moving your legs, feeling the breeze and sweating.

Each week, our own Prarthana Gurung speaks with a Leader to get a quick look at why he or she loves working to create healthy environments for kids. Want to take part? Visit Prarthana’s profile and contact her.