As children take a break from school, healthy eating habits should remain a primary focus for Philadelphia parents and caregivers.
As more children struggle with health-related issues due to poor eating habits, overweight and obese children are facing other health-related issues such as iron deficiency, anemia and diabetes.
Across the country, pediatricians are feverishly writing prescriptions for medications to combat the adverse effects of poor nutrition. The good news is there are other wellness-critical resources that, if introduced early, could help correct certain ills and chart a path for a healthy future.
Earlier this month at the Chemical Heritage Foundation, St. Christopher’s Foundation for Children brought together a cross-section of national, regional and local leaders, policy change advocates, medical practitioners and insurance professionals for a day-long symposium on food inequality and its impact on health.
“Obesity has reached epidemic proportions, and the issue demands a deliberate, multidisciplinary and strategic response,” said Jan Shaeffer, executive director of St. Christopher’s Foundation for Children, a nonprofit organization that works to support the health and well-being of children in Philadelphia.
Earlier this year, the Foundation rolled out a FreshRX pilot program that enables physicians to prescribe a whole host of farm-fresh foods to children who visit and participate in their Center for Child and Adolescent Health, GROW Clinic and Healthy Lifestyles Program.
“This symposium is a call to action for a fresh approach to the issues and complexities of obesity,” she said.
Via plenary presentations and issue-specific breakout sessions, FreshRX: The Symposium identified innovative responses to the obesity epidemic, highlighted best practices and provided practical strategies for incorporating a healthy living/active lifestyle agenda into health care practices.
Folasshade Laud-Hammond is the director of operations at Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative (AUNI) where students are committed to improving healthy eating habits for their West Philadelphia classmates and communities.
AUNI is a program of the Netter Center for Community Partnerships at the University of Pennsylvania that engages, educates and empowers youth, university students and community members. The activities are fully integrated into the university-assisted, community school model.
AUNI organizes school day, after school and summer learning opportunities for more than 10,000 students and their families at 20 public schools in Philadelphia. For more information, visit www.urbannutrition.org.
“We have a youth development program, where high school students teach healthy cooking classes to their peers and community members,” Laud-Hammond said. “The students also help cultivate and maintain school and community gardens as well as operate farmers markets.
“Through these efforts students are directing and enriching local neighborhoods in West Philadelphia by increasing access to healthier food choices and sharing food preparation tips and examples,” she added.
AUNI realizes how hard it is to change the habits and behaviors of adults and youth. This is why the group supports families with nutrition education classes, school-wide food tasting events, and after school fruit stands.
Laud-Hammond is proud of what the AUNI students are doing and hopes to see this grow. She feels it is important for the students to share the information with their friends, family and community as well as encourage more involvement in the process.
“Our young people participate in and lead national conferences,” she said. “They share stories and recommendations of strategies to promote healthy lifestyles and build a just and sustainable food system.”