TOAW Community Spotlight: Texas Health Champion Awards

Published: September 12, 2019

The Texas Health Champion Award is presented to public health leaders who have demonstrated exemplary achievement in reducing the burden and/or raising awareness of the obesity epidemic in Texas. Nominees considered for the award may be individuals, organizations, or project teams from community organizations, educational agencies, non-profit organizations, or government offices. The 2019 Texas Health Champion Award will be presented at the 12th Annual Texas Health Champion Award Ceremony held during Texas Obesity Awareness Week (September 8-14, 2019) in Austin. This year’s winners are Baker Harrell, founder and former-CEO of IT'S TIME TEXAS, and HealthStart Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to childhood health education in Austin.

Baker Harrell, PhD, is our individual Health Champion Award recipient for his work in obesity prevention and health promotion. Most recently, he founded IT’S TIME TEXAS, a large organization dedicated to tackling the obesity epidemic in over 550 communities in the Lone Star state. Through partnerships with communities, stakeholders, and other large health organizations, Dr. Harrell’s efforts through IT’S TIME TEXAS have reached over 1 million individuals. Prior to founding IT’S TIME TEXAS, Dr. Harrell has founded other organizations dedicated to physical fitness and overall health, like ACTIVE Life, Inc., formerly Youth InterACTIVE, based in Austin. Baker’s previous ventures in the public health arena have received the Best Practices Health and Fitness Award from the Texas Department of State Health Services and a Most Promising Initiative award from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Dr. Harrell got his Bachelor’s from Millsaps College, followed by his Masters of Education and PhD in Social Movement Studies, Social Marketing, and Public Health from the University of Texas at Austin. As his role at IT’s TIME TEXAS changes, he will continue to champion and advocate for public health promotion and health equity.

HealthStart Foundation, our organizational recipient of the Health Champion Award, is a 503(c)-non-profit organization, founded in 2010 by Robin Herskowitz, and headquartered in Austin, TX. Ms. Herskowitz was inspired by her grandmother’s work in the 1930s as the director of Harris County’s Public Health Department. Because of the emphasis her family put on childhood health promotion, HealthStart’s mission is to empower children through knowledge, “provid[ing] the blueprints for building healthier communities through children’s science-based health education”. These science-based programs can be found at numerous sites throughout the city of Austin, including Housing Authority of the City of Austin properties, the City of Austin Central Library, and the Southeast Health and Wellness Center, with whom the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living also partners. Their HEY! curriculum is classroom based and suitable for children 3-6 that are starting to learn about their body, health concepts like physical activity and nutrition, and social and emotional learning. Another program at HealthStart Foundation is called What are YOU Feeding? It is cafeteria based, linking what students already know about nutrition to practical decision making in the lunch line, and “demonstrat[ing] how each component of a child’s lunch helps nourish a different body system.” Shorter curricula, called CHEWs, have been adapted to fit the needs of almost any educational setting, and a health-promoting digital app for children, Monstralia is currently under development. A beta-version of Monstralia can be found online.


It is important to recognize and celebrate champions of public health, no matter how big or small an impact they may have. To learn more about the state of obesity in the U.S., childhood obesity in Texas, or how you can help us disseminate important tools in the fight against obesity, follow the links provided.


 Written by: Czesia Eid