INDIANAPOLIS – With childhood and adult obesity rates on the rise, hospitals and health systems are starting to notice it might not be enough to simply provide educational information about healthier living. Now, they are realizing it will take more innovative approaches and hitting the streets to reach some of the unhealthiest neighborhoods.

One of the unhealthiest states is Indiana, which routinely has one of the nation’s highest obesity rates – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put it at 29.5 percent in 2009. Including overweight and obese residents, that figure jumps to 65 percent for adults and 30 percent for children.

Indiana University Health, a system of 19 hospitals, has taken that message to heart and is fighting obesity through several new initiatives.

Earlier this spring, it launched “Garden on the Go,” a mobile produce truck delivering fresh, affordable fruits and vegetables to low-income Indianapolis neighborhoods. In just its first four weeks, more than 1,000 people shopped on the truck, which will operate at roughly a dozen stops, year-round.

At first glance, peddling produce doesn’t seem like the primary mission of a health system, but that’s why IU Health teamed up with grocery delivery company Green B.E.A.N. Delivery to handle the day-to-day operations of the truck.

Matt Ewer, president and co-founder of Green B.E.A.N. Delivery, said:

“IU Health’s vision to take a proactive approach to healthcare through providing positive nutrition choices in underserved neighborhoods is a perfect fit for Green B.E.A.N Delivery. We are thrilled to see a leader in the health care industry take such a progressive approach to community involvement, nutrition and health care.”

Garden on the Go isn’t the only way Hoosiers are getting their fruits and vegetables. In the fall, Indianapolis Parks, Indianapolis Parks Foundation and IU Health will unveil Indy Urban Acres, an 8-acre organic urban farm on the east side of Indianapolis. Produce from the farm will be distributed to local food banks.

And the efforts don’t stop with adults – children, too, are seeing healthy foods in their backyards in an attempt to get them eating healthier at a younger age.

In May, students at 10 Indianapolis Public Schools planted produce in new gardens. These “Riley School Gardens” are a partnership between the school district, nonprofit Keep Indianapolis Beautiful and Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health and will yield fruits and vegetables that will be shared with students, classmates, teachers and the community.

“One widely accepted strategy to combating childhood obesity is to increase access of locally grown and farm-grown fruits and vegetables to communities,” said Dr. Jeff Sperring, chief medical officer for Riley at IU Health. “Riley School Gardens will serve as a valuable nutritional education tool and a fresh food resource for IPS students, their families and the surrounding community.”

Most people know it’s not enough just to eat healthy; they also have to exercise to stay fit.

That’s why Indiana children received three new playgrounds recently thanks to a partnership between the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit KaBOOM! and IU Health. Hundreds of IU Health employees helped build the playgrounds during the organization’s annual Day of Community Service.

“As Indiana’s most comprehensive healthcare system, IU Health is committed to pursuing innovative strategies to improve the health of our communities,” said Maureen Weber, IU Health’s director of community outreach and engagement. “We know it’s not enough to just tell people to live healthier lives; sometimes it takes bringing healthier foods or opportunities for physical exercise to communities to help make a meaningful and noticeable difference.”

Written by Kistofer Karol, Indiana University Health