She spoke last week at the Urban Zen Center in downtown Manhattan, which hosted FitTown USA, a two day seminar co-sponsored by Donna Karan’s Urban Zen Foundation and HealthCorps, launched by Mehmet Oz, MD and his wife, Lisa Oz, to empower young people to become agents for healthy change.
“It’s not about lecturing kids about healthy nutrition or setting up nutritional gatekeepers,” Barnaby Spring, a Brooklyn school principle agrees. “We need to give kids the experience of what healthy food is– Our kids need to plant it, grow it, and prepare it. It needs to be made affordable.”
HealthCorps sends young health activists into school systems to inspire students and find practical and creative ways to build healthy nutrition and exercise into their lives. ”The kids wanted to learn Kung Fu but there was no kung fu studio–so we emptied class room and turned it into one. They needed aerobic exercise but due to program cuts, there was no exercise equipment, so we organized to do stair climbing as exercise,” reported Kristy Borak, a HealthCorps coordinator at a Manhattan high school.
When Patterson launched the “Healthy Steps to Albany” program, which will serve an estimated 362,000 middle school New York State children this year, she learned that before the Healthy Steps farm visits, many children “didn’t know that a potato chip comes from a potato,” or that “milk comes from a cow, not the grocery store.”
“I have an issue with the flavored milks offered in schools,” says chef Alexandra Jamieson. “They contain nearly as much sugar as a Coke. That’s ridiculous. Kids should not be offered that kind of “choice.” “
“Poor quality food actually undermines the ability to learn,” says Physician Sarita Dhuper, MD, who directs a pediatric obesity program at a Brooklyn Hospital. “High quality food is both healthy and improves concentration and learning.”
Despite the creativity and dedication of principals like McTavish and Spring, they alone can’t resolve the systemic causes of unhealthy food and poor school nutrition. However, grass roots organizing and advocacy can build to larger scale social change.
That’s why, “with the HealthCorps children as the ambassadors, we’re spreading the word at home,” says Lisa Oz.