Raffa Cuomo & Susan J. Moesker
USA is expanding through powerful partnerships that enhance our
ability to help our children thrive. This past year, Mentoring
USA has partnered with the Strang Cancer Prevention Center to
offer children access to improved lifestyles. With the leadership
of Dr. Michael P. Osborne, president of the Strang Cancer Prevention
Center, the Child Health Initiative was formed to promote the
importance of helping young children to understand and adopt healthy
habits, such as eating nutritiously and getting adequate exercise.
As Chair of the Child Health Initiative Advisory Board, I know
that we are fortunate to have a dynamic Executive Director, B.J.
Carter, along with 16 Board Members, who are outstanding leaders
and advocates for children’s health. The program, “Healthy Children,
Healthy Futures,” is being funded by Metropolitan Life Insurance
Company in an attempt to address the nation’s child obesity crisis.
According to recently published statistics from the CDC (National
Center for Disease Control), the number of overweight children
and teens has doubled over the past 20 years. This, in turn, leads
to higher incidences of serious and life-threatening diseases
such as diabetes and cancer.
The challenge is how to encourage children to become stakeholders
in nutrition and physical activity education for themselves, their
peers, families and communities. Beginning in September 2002,
children in after school programs in Atlanta, Los Angeles, and
New York will spend 12 weeks in small groups facilitated by adult
mentors, learning about healthy lifestyle choices. They will then
utilize their newfound knowledge to create media messages to share
with their peers about the importance of what you eat and how
much you exercise.
Mentoring USA staff is involved in the development and promotion
of nutrition and fitness messages by and for kids in the three
pilot cities, and we are currently developing the training component
of this program. It is Mentoring USA’s goal to be sure that mentors
are successful in conveying the information to the young people
in an age-appropriate, upbeat and compelling manner. It is not
enough for mentors to simply “talk the talk” as far as health
is concerned; children will be persuaded, rather, by the behaviors
their mentors model for them. Mentors will be selected from the
talented staffs of Inner City Games, L.A’s Best After School Enrichment
Program, and Boys and Girls Clubs of America.
Recently, while attending a wonderful luncheon at the French Culinary
Institute on the occasion of the opening of a new mentoring program,
I met the nationally-renowned chef from San Francisco, Alice Waters.
She shared with me a delightfully simple concept that she has
championed: encouraging children to undertake gardening projects,
such as growing their own vegetables. She has found that children
derive great satisfaction and enjoyment from learning to appreciate
the nutritional value, color, taste, and beauty of food that they
grow themselves. They are also exposed to a wider variety of produce
than may ordinarily be available on their home or school menus.
In the future, Mentoring USA will look to embrace pioneering programs
such as this.
The most widely-studied, and perhaps the most powerful factors
in the school environment that influence student activity and
nutrition behaviors are the schools’ programs in health education,
physical education, and food service. We at Mentoring USA believe
that the fundamental knowledge about choice in all of these areas
will afford children a healthy lifestyle that will endure throughout
their entire lives, and impact their families as well.#
Cuomo is the former first lady of NY and founder and chairperson
of Mentoring USA.
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