When I was a child, one of my favorite sugary snacks was basically a small vat of frosting. It came with cookies for dunking. I won’t lie; some of that stuff is delicious, but with help from my family and what I learned in school, I came to appreciate healthier alternatives.
No question, it seems an uphill battle for many kids. Childhood obesity is epidemic, with more than one-third of U.S. kids and teens now classified as overweight or obese. And to make matters worse, kids in America watch, on average, between three and five fast-food ads every day.
In short, we’re in a battle for the hearts and stomachs of America’s youth. This is why BODY was formed as a student-run initiative at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. It stands for Bronx Obesity, Diabetes and You. We’re trying to help instill healthy eating and lifestyle habits in youth in the Bronx and beyond.
Winning the nutrition battle
How? We teach neighborhood kids about nutrition and healthy eating through workshops. We visit our student-operated local garden and we host after-school events, where we engage kids through exercise and play—to get them to burn calories.
We want kids to know what nutrient-dense meals look like and how to have a healthy relationship with food. Sugary snacks such as chocolate will always get a kid’s attention, but through education, BODY thinks that we can help tip the scales toward healthier snacks.
An all-star meal debate
In a recent nutrition workshop we were discussing healthy dessert options. Some fourth-grade students got into a riveting intellectual debate involving pro basketball’s biggest superstar, LeBron James. The subject: “What dessert does LeBron eat to fuel his incredible energy and talent?”
The discussion helped us talk about the benefits of healthy eating. We exchanged lots of ideas. The best guess about LeBron’s dessert habits (and I’m paraphrasing): “LeBron would eat a lot of Jell-O so he can be bouncy and jump higher.”
We don’t know if that’s true, of course, but at least it sparked discussion. The class and BODY’s workshop leaders agreed that maybe Jell-O is a bit too light for LeBron. They guessed that in order for LeBron to maintain his peak physical shape come game-time, he probably substitutes Greek yogurt for ice cream and eats fruit for his after-dinner snack. According to wikianswers, they’re not too far off! If we’re to believe what we read, yogurt definitely plays a part in LeBron’s diet. Whatever is true, the exercise was a good one since it raised consciousness about healthy eating among an impressionable group of fourth graders.
Hope for healthy habits
Interactive moments such as this are great. They make healthy eating habits relatable to children, and with any luck the kids will adopt at least some of these practices as they grow older.
We can’t change the eating habits of all kids with one conversation, or even one program. We get that. But if, after one of our workshops, even one student goes home and asks for yogurt instead of ice cream, then we’re headed in the right direction.