Archive for January, 2015

Christine Pham, Strauss, “My Healthy Start”

Food is subsidized for many low-socioeconomic families in the United States. However, the food provided is usually not the best quality in terms of nutrients, minerals, and vitamins. Many items are high in fat and sugar, leading to an ingestion of low-quality food items amongst not only the parents but also the kids. Children are being exposed to foods with a higher content of fat and sugar at a younger age, leading to the onset of illnesses such as diabetes at an early age. At the same time, government campaigns have been advocating a healthier lifestyle to the communities. With these conflicting ideas, how can one take charge in improving one’s health?

My Healthy Start: An After School Program for Elementary Students aims to teach kids about moderation. Santa Ana is a city in Orange County where 20% of the city’s population lives below the poverty line. Approximately 34.8% of children living in Santa Ana are obese, the second highest in California and double the national average. I understand that eating healthy can be difficult when you are on a budget. It’s easy to indulge on fast food after a hard day’s work because you are too exhausted to cook or buy lower quality products because it is cheaper. Therefore, this program tells them that it is OK to eat unhealthy foods as long as it is in moderation. Instead of focusing on what they should be eating (going over the food pyramid. etc), we emphasize more on teaching them the skills to understand what they are currently eating, how it plays a role in our body, and how you can incorporate those foods into a balanced diet. For example, we’ll go over how to read and understand food labels of their favorite snacks, digesting complicated words such as high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oil into more relatable terms, sugar and trans fat.

So far, the organization of the My Healthy Start program has run as planned with some alterations. I have been working with the THINK Together after school program in coordinating the schools that we would be visiting in Santa Ana. However, unfortunately, complications have arisen and so we moved our first few rotations to the Orange and Tustin districts—both districts with a large population of childhood obesity. We had our first rotation in October and my team and I GREATLY enjoyed it. We worked with twenty 5th graders from Heideman Elementary School. I had fun working with the kids and it amazes me how intelligent and insightful this group was. The first session went really well. We started off with a calisthenics activity, handed out a survey, presented the lesson, and gave them the booklets. In addition, the next 3 sessions also went smoothly as well, with physical activity components added to them.

To be honest, working with 5th graders in the beginning scared me. 5th grade is when you are at the peak of your elementary school! It’s when kids start thinking they’re super cool and start giving some attitude. However, I was so delighted that the students I worked with were polite, talkative, and most importantly, interested to learn. I feel truly blessed to have been able to work with these smart and charismatic kids as they provided such an unbiased and refreshing viewpoint on things! I’m glad our program was 4 weeks long so that my team and I were able to interact with the kids multiple times, thus providing more support and guidance to the kids in nutrition.

As the end of the first school rotation neared, I was sad to say good bye. I was speaking to the teacher and she told us that she hears her students talk about what we teach them during lunchtime. This compliment put a smile on all our faces and made me happy to know that the program is serving its purpose of teaching children about nutrition. The committee members were sad that our first rotation with Heideman Elementary School has ended because we all had a lot of fun working with the kids! We were thinking of possibly coming back for one session where we make healthy snacks and check up on their progress. I am still working on the logistics of coming back, but, in conclusion, I think it was a very successful pilot program!

With the end of each school rotation, changes are made to the lesson plans in order to make the next one an even greater experience for the kids. So far, we have completed the programs at two schools and are currently in the process of visiting our third. Each group of kids has a different flair about them and I have enjoyed my experiences working with all of them.