MUSC Children's Hospital has received a $1 million investment from Boeing to expand existing programs promoting healthy living among children and families.

The Boeing Center for Promotion of Healthy Lifestyles in Children and Families will be housed and managed from the hospital, but its activities will take place in local schools and other sites throughout the community.

The center will encompass two of the Medical University of South Carolina's obesity prevention and treatment programs: the Lean Team and Heart Health. The Lean Team is a partnership between MUSC and Charleston County School District to prevent and treat childhood obesity, and Heart Health is the pediatric weight-management program for MUSC Children's Hospital and the preventive cardiology service of the Children's Heart Center.

Boeing's investment will enable both programs to expand under the center's umbrella and reach more students and families. It's estimated that 8,000 children and their families will be served directly, but all of the district's 43,000 students and 5,500 employees will benefit from forthcoming changes.

"Children are our future and by making this investment, Boeing is helping to shape a healthier South Carolina," MUSC President Ray Greenberg said in a statement. "We need to instill healthy lifestyle practices at the youngest possible ages in order to prevent the development of diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and other illnesses down the road."

Childhood obesity is rampant in South Carolina. More than one-third of high school students are obese or overweight, and a separate MUSC study found that 43 percent of children and 67 percent of adults in Charleston County schools were either overweight or obese.

The Lean Team and Heart Health programs will split the money over the next two years, and the majority of the funds will pay for staff. The Lean Team will hire two nutritionists, a fitness trainer and a coordinator who also will oversee the Heart Health program.

The team already is trying to recruit a physician to voluntarily adopt every school, and the new hires will work with each site to create customized exercise and nutrition programs. The nutritionists also will work with district officials to make school lunches healthier.

The Heart Health program will hire a fitness trainer and dietician, as well as physicians who will work with families to improve their diets and lifestyles to manage their weight and improve cardiovascular risk factors. That will include one-on-one counseling as well as group education sessions.

Phil Saul, medical director of MUSC Children's Hospital, helped craft the proposal to create the Boeing Center. He said neither MUSC program could be expanded or fully implemented without this funding. His hope is that by having fully staffed and operational programs, the center will be able to monitor outcomes to show the model works. That information would be used to apply for other grants to help sustain those programs, he said.

"We hope the programs' success will make it a model for addressing childhood obesity and promoting wellness statewide and nationally," Saul said.