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New York City
June 2003

Healthy Children Healthy Futures
by Matilda Raffa Cuomo and B.J. Carter

According 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 same.

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 families.

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 to learn:

• 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.#

Matilda 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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Education Update, Inc., P.O. Box 20005, New York, NY 10001.
Tel: (212) 481-5519. Fax: (212) 481-3919.Email: ednews1@aol.com.
All material is copyrighted and may not be printed without express consent of the publisher. © 2003.