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Gasol Foundation tackles child obesity in disadvantaged neighbourhood of Barcelona

“We consider a child’s family and broader relational context, rather than focusing narrowly on nutrition only.”
Cristina Ribes
Safalín project director

More physical activity, healthier nutrition, better psycho-emotional health… By disseminating information, holding workshops and organising family activities, the Gasol Foundation in Barcelona fights overweight in children. Its Safalín project was supported by the Nike Community Impact Fund, managed by the King Baudouin Foundation.

More than 40% of children in Spain are overweight or obese, and – as in many other countries – weight problems are even more prevalent among children from disadvantaged families and areas, due to their poorly balanced nutrition. Obesity at a young age is not merely a risk factor for social isolation, depression or chronic diseases (such as cardiovascular disorders or type II diabetes), it paves the way for unhealthy habits and health issues in adulthood. No wonder the World Health Organisation (WHO) accords high priority to preventing childhood obesity.

The Gasol Foundation is putting all its energy into efforts to do just this. The Gasol name may ring a bell with basketball fans. Pau and Marc Gasol, born and raised in Barcelona, are Olympians and NBA champion athletes in the USA. In fact, they are the only brothers to have both won NBA titles. Growing up with parents who both worked in the medical field, they were educated to lead a healthy lifestyle. As adults, after collaborating with several organisations, they decided to set up their Foundation to focus on lowering the childhood obesity rate.

Fitness sessions and healthy cooking
One of its measures is the Safalín project, set up in 2017 to benefit disadvantaged children in Sant Boi de Llobregat (Barcelona). For the second phase of the Safalín project in 2018-2019, targeting over 100 children aged 6-12 and their families, the Gasol Foundation received support from the Nike Community Impact Fund (NCIF).

To curb obesity among young people, the Safalín project adopts a holistic approach, not only using physical activity to combat a sedentary lifestyle (e.g. overuse of digital media) and make the children fitter, but also improving their nutrition, sleep, psycho-emotional health and interfamilial relationships. To this end, it involves parents in their kids' sport and fitness sessions and actively encourages family activities (healthy cooking, outings, walks, etc.). Children and their parents jointly participate in a series of such sessions.

Switch off TV
Safalín Project Director Cristina Ribes explains: "We consider a child’s family and broader relational context, rather than focusing narrowly on nutrition only or on them as an isolated individual. Emotional engagement is just as important as physical effort".

The NCIF budget is used not only to organise sessions, but also to follow them up with a detailed evaluation. This was also done after the first phase of the project, which yielded promising results. For example, most of the participating families adhered to a healthy Mediterranean diet, while the diet among families in a control group worsened. Involvement in the sessions was also found to improve emotional wellbeing.

Seeing the results and hearing the families’ comments is encouraging, says Cristina Ribes: "For instance, I think of this kid who, after participating in the project, asked his mother to switch off the TV and sit down at the table to have supper with him".

Local partnerships
Comments made by the children themselves also reflect the changes in their family life. "Now we go for biking trips as a family at weekends and spend the day out and about", said a child named Isadora. "Now we read a bedtime story every night before going to sleep", explained a lad named Erik, for the project also addresses the need for healthy sleeping habits. "We don’t eat all these snacks at home any more", added a boy named Francisco.

For the second phase of the project, the Gasol Foundation ramped up and extended its collaboration with local authorities, schools, community centres and businesses. It banks on the active involvement of educators from community centres, whose awareness is raised and who receive training on how to tackle the project's priority issues with local families. The Gasol Foundation is proud that two socio-educational centres in the neighbourhood spontaneously asked to be involved, and local merchants' association offered to help by supplying healthy food and offering other incentives for the workshops. The city council in nearby Girona has shown serious interest in implementing the Safalín project's approach in two neighbourhoods home to a high percentage of disadvantaged families.

About the Nike Community Impact Funds

In 2018, Nike launched a Fund to foster the development of local communities in Barcelona. It awarded grants of of €5,000 to €20,000, for a total of €104,000, to 10 associations and NGOs in the counties of Barcelonès and Baix Llobregat with a view to directly benefiting the communities in which most Nike Barcelona employees live and work. Nike launched similar Funds, all managed by the King Baudouin Foundation, in Belgium (5 grant selections) and Holland (4 grant selections). More recently, a Fund for Milan (first call for proposals in 2019) followed, and in 2020 a first call for proposals is running in London.

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