In recent years, efforts to tackle childhood obesity have engaged everyone from the First Lady of the United States to local bodega owners. The reasoning is sound: today nearly half of the children in New York City are not at a healthy weight and the dearth of healthy options in many communities leave families with few options beyond the many fast food restaurants that crowd city blocks. The bright side is that these troubling statistics have led many organizations to integrate lessons around childhood obesity into their activities, bringing a “stay healthy” message into many different forums. As a recent New York Times article highlighted, the Children’s Museum of Manhattan has taken on this issue and run with it.
EatSleepPlay is a comprehensive, arts and literacy health-based project that uses creative and fun ways to engage children and their parents in the area of nutrition, sleep and active play. It includes a permanent exhibit where children can crawl through a giant digestive system and meet super-powered vegetable heroes called Super Sprowtz that explore the benefits of fruits and vegetables at a giant NYC Green Cart. The initiative reaches outside of the museum walls with an 11 week family health curriculum developed in partnership with the National Institutes of Health. The exhibit has proved popular with schoolchildren and some of the schools that Bronx Health REACH works with on an obesity prevention program have already brought their students to the museum as part of their nutrition education curriculum.
These kinds of efforts meant to engage young people in healthy activities in a somewhat non-traditional way have been sprouting up all over the city. Steve Ritz, a biology and earth science teacher formerly at Discovery High School in the Bronx, started Green Bronx Machine, a so-called “portable science lab” where students plant vertical living walls. (Watch Steve Ritz give a fantastic TEDx talk on YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lcSL2yN39JM.) Other schools tout healthy bake sales and integrate physical activity into classroom work because students aren’t receiving the recommended amount of physical education. Though more traditional methods, such as organizing sports teams or incorporating nutrition education into the curriculum are critical, the ability to think outside of the box in order to address the obesity epidemic is a crucial part of this movement.