Children Healthy Futures
by Matilda Raffa Cuomo and B.J. Carter
to the Centers for Disease Control, the number of
obese children continues to rise. Recent data from the National
Center of Healthy Statistics shows that nearly 9 million children
and adolescents ages 6–19 are overweight. This is three times
the number of overweight children and teens in 1980. Health problems
associated with obesity among our nation’s youth include the increased
risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, orthopedic
ailments and social problems.
In 2001, Strang and the MetLife Foundation, along with a partner
alliance with Mentoring USA, joined forces and are currently implementing
Healthy Children Healthy Futures Initiative intended for
underserved young people, ages 9-12, in after-school settings.
The Initiative provides for children the opportunity to learn
about healthy eating and physical activity and motivate them to
create compelling messages to encourage their peers to do the
Mentoring USA worked with Strang to design both the training and
the associated training manuals for the pilot program in the after-school
sites in Atlanta, Los Angeles and New York City. Mentoring USA’s
expertise in group mentoring helped the after-school facilitators—who
manage groups of children at their respective program sites—to
better understand their roles as “mentor-facilitators.” The children,
in turn, learned about the value and significance of increased
physical activity and healthy eating, knowledge, which they converted
into advertisement messages in various media (posters, radio spots,
animated TV ads, and short videos) to share with their peers and
Concurrently with the start of the national Initiative, a voluntary
advisory board of visionary professionals from the private and
public sector who have an interest in the health and welfare of
our nation’s underserved children was formed. The advisory board,
which is chaired by Matilda Raffa Cuomo of Mentoring USA, includes
for example, Clarence Pearson, Senior Advisor to the World Health
Organization; Angelica Cantlon, Senior Vice President Human Resources,
Metropolitan Life; Freddie Greenberg, Editor-in-Chief, Nick Jr.
Magazine; Ernest Clayton, United Parents Association; Alwyn Cohall,
MD, Director, Harlem Health Promotion Center, Mailman School
of Public Health, Columbia University; Judith Pickens, Senior
Vice President, Program Services, Boys & Girls Clubs of America;
Paula Veale, Executive Vice President, The Advertising Council,
Inc; Special Board advisors include: Woodie Kessel, MD, Assistant
Surgeon General, President’s Task Force on Environmental Health
Risks & Safety Risks to Children; Howell Wechsler, Ed.D.,
MPH, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Adolescent
and School Health; Terry Marx, MD, Chief Physician for School
Health, NYC Board of Ed and Special liaison to the American Academy
of Pediatrics. The members of this group are all actively providing
their expertise to assist in the development, refinement, and/or
the dissemination of the Healthy Children Healthy Futures program.
The goal of the next program phase is to develop a Healthy
Eating, Physical Activity Parent Program for healthy eating
and physical activity. Mentoring USA, working with Strang, will
provide the training component to enable parents to become advocates
who will then mentor other parents on healthy eating and physical
activity for their children and families. The parents will be
recruited from the program sites in each of the three cities.
More specifically, it is anticipated that the mothers, fathers
or guardians who participate in the parent- to-parent mentoring
program will learn from trained parent advocates the healthy nutrition/physical
activity information and skills that are necessary to be role
models for their children.
More specifically the parents will have the opportunity
how many fruits and vegetables to eat daily, easy ways to prepare
them and the most economical way to buy them.
• that low-fat or fat-free milk is healthier for children over
the age of two to drink than whole milk.
• the kind of lean meats and low-fat cheeses that are the healthiest
to include in their meal planning and how to prepare them.
• which beverages – including water – are the healthiest to drink.
• which snacks are healthiest for them to eat and how to prepare
snacks for the family.
• which whole grains and beans are healthiest, most economic and
best ways to prepare them.
• ways to be healthy eating role models for their children
• ways to increase their physical activity and ways to limit television
and electronic game viewing.
• how to identify indoor and outdoor spaces in their neighborhood
where they can safely engage in physical activities.
• how to grocery shop effectively.
• ways to get the most information off of food labels.
We hope the students will show a willingness to participate in
school and other community physical activities that are available
to them. We also hope that they show a willingness to try
new foods, explore ways of preparing meals and a willingness to
change some of their eating behaviors. The ultimate goal
of Healthy Children Healthy Futures is to promote youth
advocacy to get the word out about the benefits of leading healthier
lifestyles through nutrition/physical activity media messages.
Healthy Children Healthy Futures participants can be instrumental
in stopping the epidemic of obesity and related illnesses in our
cities, one neighborhood at a time.#
Raffa Cuomo is the Founder/Chairperson, Mentoring USA and B.J.
Carter is the Director of the Child Health Initiative, Strang
Cancer Prevention Center.
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