Joining ‘Links’ to Fight Childhood Obesity Healthy Choices at NBY Youth Summit

“I was so surprised today, to see a little girl look at her friend and say, ‘I never tasted Spinach before,’” commented Dr. Barbara Edwards, an Associated Professor at Florida Memorial University and President of the Dade County Chapter of The Links, Incorporated, during the Childhood Obesity Prevention Initiative promoting HEALTHY CHOICES Youth Summit on Thursday, March 8, 2012, from 9:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. at Nathan B. Young Elementary School, 14420 N.W. 24th Avenue, Opa-locka Florida 33054. In recognition of the serious health issues brought about through childhood obesity, The Miami Cluster, comprised of three chapters of The Links, Incorporated (Dade County, Greater Miami, and Miami- Biscayne Bay), received a grant entitled Awareness and Advocacy for the Children for $7,500 to implement a Florida Pilot Project aimed at combating childhood obesity in the Cities of Opa-locka and Miami Gardens.

According to Dr. Lillian Cooper, President Miami Biscayne-Bay Chapter and other representatives of The Links, Inc., over the past three decades childhood obesity rates in America have tripled, reaching epidemic proportions in the African-American community with nearly 40% of the children being overweight or obese. Childhood Obesity has severe health consequences among African- American youth and it is a contributing factor to a higher risk of chronic illness, including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer and asthma.

Renée S. Jones, President of the Greater Miami Chapter stated, “Our goal is to reach and commit 5000 families to making healthy choices through the three components of the grant.” The first component, held Wednesday, February 29, 2012, was the “kick-off” at Golden Glades Elementary, 16520 N.W. 28 Avenue, from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m., during a Town Hall meeting where a Task Force, commissioned by The Miami Cluster, promoted the awareness of childhood obesity to parents, families, businesses, school administrators and elected officials who were provided with…
1) Educational information regarding childhood obesity;
2) An update on current public policy and pending legislative issues/concerns; and
3) Opportunity for the community to share ideas/concerns.

The second component of the grant was the Youth Summit; a program conducted to educate third through fifth graders on healthy choices through nutritional education, food demonstrations and Physical Activity with the help of “Choosey” (the bright orange balloon mascot) at an assembly, followed by group rotations to three designated stations every 25 minutes. The students, adorning High F.I.V.E. (Fruit, Information, Vegetable, Exercise) t-shirts, listened attentively to Registered Dietician Rojean Williams as she explained the longterm benefits of eating healthy to avoid illnesses such as high blood pressures, elevated cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease associated with years of bad eating habits. Williams explained how moderation (with regard to “junk” food) and portion size (palm of the hand) of the right type of food can make a drastic difference in weight control and overall health. She rang a “wake-up” bell when comparing the consumption of a large burger, fries and a milk shake or the popular “finger-licking good” fried chicken, to eating a stick of butter. After gasping, students eagerly answered questions and inquired about the nutritional components of the various food examples in the charts and on display. Williams encouraged the students to read food labels, examining the content for the amount of sugar, salt and fat.

During the “taste-test” portion of the program, “Short Chef,” who previously prepared food for President Barack Obama, greeted the students with salads made of lettuce, spinach, fruit, nuts and other appetizing ingredients. Upon realizing that salads too can be flavorsome, the students delightfully consumed the samples provided by the “Short Chef.” Afterwards, the group visited their final station, where a discussion on the importance of physical activity preceded a jump rope exercise; one of the many ways the students were encouraged to gain 30-60 minutes of exercise per day. The Links, then presented a “Fun Day Field Day Pack (football, soccer ball, basketball, hula hoop…etc)” to Principal Raymond Sands for the school to continue promoting physical activity. Each student participant received their own jump rope and information from the youth summit to share with their parents, so that they too may be educated and prepared to make Healthy Choices when grocery shopping.

The third component of the grant incorporates the public relations campaign, which includes a partnership with Clear Channel to purchase a billboard advertisement on 167th Street and 27th avenue (off the Palmetto expressway) to promote the program for a month for “a nominal” fee. Other campaigns are being prepared to promote good eating habits and life style adjustments. With this initiative, members of The Links, Incorporated, hope to effect policy to implement legislative change at the local, state and national levels. “After all,” Jones noted, “A healthy child today is a healthy adult tomorrow!”

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