We Can!® County: Armstrong County, Pennsylvania

HEALTHY Armstrong

"The Healthy Recipe of the Week campaign helps residents make healthy food choices. It’s another way we promote the We Can! message within Armstrong County."
— Kay Owen, Project Director, HEALTHY Armstrong


Armstrong County, which calls itself "the heart of Western Pennsylvania," has had a soft spot for We Can!–based programming since it became the first official We Can! County. Like many rural communities, Armstrong County has the challenge of offering recreational opportunities to individuals living in a large geographic area—in this case some 664 square miles. But leaders are up to the challenge, especially when it comes to helping local children maintain a healthy weight.

Armstrong County Representatives

Prompted by data showing alarming rates of overweight among children in their community, the ACMH Foundation rolled up its sleeves and got down to work with We Can!. The formal launch of this first We Can! County, in September 2007, was a high–energy event that included music and physical activity for the several hundred school–age children who attended, and featured a variety of speakers—including Melissa McGowan, Public Health Advisor from the National Institutes of Health. At the event, McGowan presented Armstrong County Commissioners with the first ever
We Can! County road sign. Armstrong kept the momentum going by hosting a 2K walk for families two days following the launch. Representatives from all of the organizations partnering in the HEALTHY (Healthy Eating Active Lifestyles Together Helping Youth) Armstrong coalition, a countywide, school–based initiative, also participated in the event (see below for more details on the coalition).

Read more about the County's implementation of We Can! programming below. You can also skip ahead to each of the following topics by clicking on them.

Key Successes

Among its many successes influencing individual and family behavior change in the heart of Western Pennsylvania, HEALTHY Armstrong has promoted We Can! in the following ways:

Healthy Recipe of the Week: Since October 2008, HEALTHY Armstrong has been cooking up a countywide campaign to help residents understand the importance of proper food choices, nutritional content, and portion control. The group partners with several grocery stores throughout the county, offering weekly healthy recipes that are featured in a prominent grocery display. The intent is to make people aware of the We Can! program, let them know they have easy access to healthy food choices, and give them a way to prepare those foods.

Grocery Display

Web Visibility: The HEALTHY Armstrong website, launched in April 2009, allows visitors from across the globe to learn about We Can! through HEALTHY Armstrong, allowing them access to We Can!–based resources with the click of a mouse.  You can see for yourself at www.healthyarmstrong.com

Healthy Armstrong website

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We Can! programming currently occurs in seven elementary and middle schools in Armstrong County.

Based on the We Can! CATCH curriculum, the school program began as a pilot effort in Elderton Elementary School and was so successful there that it expanded to six other schools in Armstrong County. The program includes in–classroom, afterschool, weekend, and other activities. including:

  • Snack-making advice from HEALTHY Armstrong school-based staff
  • We Can! tips incorporated into discussions during middle school health classes
  • "Wellness Night" for parents and students at the West Hills Primary School
  • Field trips to Lenape Vo-Tech for healthy cooking demonstrations
  • Field trips to the local YMCA for a water safety lesson (swimming for the whole family)
  • "Go for the Greens" Celebration activities
  • Turn-Off-the-TV Week
  • Project ACES (All Children Exercise Simultaneously)
  • Schoolwide monthly walks outdoors
  • A wellness trip to the Belmont Complex recreational facility
  • Visits from a nutritionist

Armstrong County Kids Playing

In 2010, HEALTHY Armstrong began a pilot project at West Hills Intermediate School in physical education classes that uses pulse monitors to track kids' activity levels during class. The purpose of this pilot program is to help kids learn more about their heart rates, increase physical activity levels, and understand the effect that physical activity has on their bodies. The monitors have been well received by the kids and encourage the kids to attain their target activity levels. There are plans to continue this program into the 2010–11 school year.

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As mentioned earlier, HEALTHY Armstrong is a coalition comprised of many partners, including the following:

  • ACMH Hospital
  • ACMH Foundation
  • Armstrong School District
  • Children's Community Pediatrics—Armstrong
  • County of Armstrong
  • UPMC Health Plan

Other community partners include The Armstrong Trail, Greater Armstrong County YMCA, Belmont Complex, Penn State Cooperative Extension, and Crooked Creek Environmental Learning Center. On a side note, representatives from the UPMC Health Plan also lead We Can! efforts in nearby Pittsburgh. Read more about their efforts.

HEALTHY Armstrong

The coalition's mission is to "…improve the health of families in the community and to help children maintain a healthy weight through improved nutrition and increased physical activity." These are two key We Can! messages, and the coalition's work is based on We Can! curricula for youth and parents.

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Outreach & Events

From the first day as a We Can! County, Armstrong County has gotten hearts pumping about the program by reaching out to the community and others through a number of events and activities:

  • HEALTHY Armstrong sponsors two annual special events in Armstrong County. The Hike and Bike event, which is held in August on the Armstrong Trail, gets families out exercising together and includes more than 150 people. The Healthy Lifestyle Extravaganza event in September encourages healthy eating habits and regular physical exercise. Over 200 people attend this event each year.
  • "Wellness Month," April 2009 and 2010: The Armstrong County Commissioner's office declared April a month to focus on countywide wellness efforts, and issued a proclamation that included We Can! as one movement making those efforts.
  • Direct Communication: In addition to the HEALTHY Armstrong website, Armstrong County residents get a peek at We Can! as they drive along major highways where several We Can! County road signs have been posted to promote the County's involvement in the We Can! program.
  • Media Coverage: HEALTHY Armstrong has been getting the We Can!–based word out by reaching into Armstrong's living rooms and onto breakfast tables by appearing in the local news. Coalition representatives have gone live on "Pittsburgh Today Live," a morning show on the CBS affiliate station in Pittsburgh (KDKA–TV), and been profiled on the Armstrong School District television station ASD–TV, and the coalition's programs and events are regularly featured in the local newspaper, The Leader Times.
  • Knowledge Sharing: Leaders at the Armstrong County site have also reached out to share lessons learned with others. For example:
    • We Can! Pittsburgh Regional Training: Kay Owen, Project Director for HEALTHY Armstrong, presented an overview of their programming during this April 2010 training event. She shared the initiative's history and current We Can!–related activities and events, as well as outcomes achieved by HEALTHY Armstrong.
    • American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) national conferences: Dr. Kiran Bhat, a pediatrician at Children's Community Pediatrics–Armstrong and a member of HEALTHY Armstrong's Executive Council, presented the coalition at several AAP conferences in 2008 and 2009.
    • National Association for City and County Health Officials Webcast:  This February 2008 Webcast for city and county health officials featured Dr. Bhat, and plays an essential role in coordinating We Can!–based activities for HEALTHY Armstrong in both clinical and community settings.  You can hear the webcast at http://webcasts.naccho.org/session-archived.php?id=1168. Read more about We Can! trainings.

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  • Kid Minutes is a measure to determine the number of minutes elementary kids in Armstrong School District spend participating in physical activity outside physical education classes.

The graph provided below illustrates the increase of children (2-4 years of age) who participated in physical activity. In 2006, 402,142 kids were reported; in 2007-2009 the average was increased to 476,941. (NOTE: the total does not include PE classes.)

Kids Minute graph showing number of elementary kids in Armstrong County School District

Go, Slow, Whoa!

  • HEALTHY Armstrong tracked food items purchased in Armstrong School District during the same one–week period from 2005–2009, defining foods as Go, Slow, or Whoa foods – based on their caloric and nutritional content – to assess any changes in behavior with cafeteria menu changes

    The graph provided below illustrates the percentage of all foods purchased over the five–year period that were categorized as "Whoa" foods. Cafeteria menu changes began in 2006 and HEALTHY Armstrong began in 2007. In 2005, the total was 20%; in 2006, the total was 19%; in 2007 it was at 14% , in 2007 the graph shows the percentage at 17% and in 2009, in decreased to just 11%.

Graph of percentage of all foods purchased over 5 year period categorize as "Whoa" foods.

Contact Information
For more information on Armstrong’s We Can! platform, please send a letter or visit their website:

Kay Detrick Owen
Project Director
HEALTHY Armstrong
401 Ford Street
Ford City, PA 16226

For additional contact information, send an email to nhlbiinfo@nhlbi.nih.gov.

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Last Updated: February 13, 2013