Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Why the Don’t Stress, Eat Fresh School Curriculum Matters

On June 12th PS36-Unionport School and Saba Quality Plus Deli & Grocery unveiled the Don't Stress, Eat Fresh Campaign at Saba Quality Plus Deli & Grocery.

This post was written by Elecia Faauiaso, an intern with the Bronx Health REACH Creating Healthy Schools and Communities program who worked on the Don’t Stress, Eat Fresh Curriculum as her Masters Practicum in Public Health at New York University. Elecia also served as an instructor last fall on a counter-marketing study with CS448-Soundview Academy of Culture and Scholarship. She will be graduating with a dual Master's degree in Public Health and Dietetics this fall.

As the project coordinator and intern for Bronx Health REACH’s Creating Healthy Schools and Communities program working on the Don’t Stress, Eat Fresh curriculum, I was proud to see this campaign launch at PS 294-Walton Avenue School, PS36-Unionport School, and PS443-The Family School in June. The Don’t Stress, Eat Fresh healthy bodega marketing campaign is a borough wide bodega marketing campaign launched last November by the Institute for Family Health's Bronx Health REACH, the Bodega Association and the Bronx Bodega Partners Workgroup to encourage Bronx residents to purchase healthier foods and beverages at 56 participating Bronx bodegas. During the past two weeks students from PS 294-Walton Avenue School, PS36-Unionport School, and PS443-The Family School in partnership with M&H Deli Grocery, Saba Quality Plus Deli & Grocery and La Solucion distributed samples of healthy foods sold in the bodegas and posted signage hightlighting the healthy food.

At the three Bronx schools, I provided on-going technical assistance to the teachers with the support of Moria Byrne-Zaaloff, Program Coordinator for the Creating Healthy Schools and Communities program. I trained the teachers in the 8 week Don’t Stress, Eat Fresh curriculum, which focuses on: healthy eating, processed foods, food marketing and marketing campaign development. Over the 8 week course students learned about the barriers to healthy foods in their neighborhood and the various techniques marketers use to influence their food choices. The most eye-opening activity to me was when students learned how to read nutrition labels.

A PS36-Unionport parent enjoyed the fruit salad samples distributed by students from the school.

Students brought in their favorite snacks from their local bodega and were shocked to learn how unhealthy many snacks were once they understood the high sugar and salt content of each. One student expressed concern about the harmful effects of consuming an entire package of Takis on a daily basis. She said, “When I eat a bag by myself, I'm actually eating for 3 to 4 people. That’s a lot of calories for me!” After she shared this with me I found that through education and by providing young students with the necessary tools and skills to navigate their way through our complex food system gives them the power to be health conscious consumers.

Each school took a survey of their partner bodega to determine what healthy options were available in their neighborhood bodega and to think critically about how product placement, accessibility, convenience and price all affects the food choices they make every day. Angela Boyle, a FoodCorps member with PS443-The Family School, told me that her students felt “important and professional” doing the bodega surveys, and assessing their neighborhood bodegas “gave them power.” I found it inspiring to see the students take action to change their own food environment. I believe where they eat, sleep, learn, play, and shop should support their choices in living a healthy lifestyle.

The bodega owners showed a lot of enthusiasm and were eager to participate in the Don’t Stress, Eat Fresh campaign. Carlos, a bodega worker at La Solucion shared, “I would much rather see students purchasing healthy smoothies and juices. It is important for them to learn healthy eating habits when they are young, so they do not get sick when they are older.” Students and teachers from PS443-The Family School hope to drive more customers seeking smoothies to La Solucion by posting the colorful posters and coordinating healthy food demos.

Why do we need to focus on these matters? We have so much working against us. The battle between the cheap and easy availability of processed foods versus the shortage of healthy foods in local bodegas; the misleading health claims and puzzling nutrition labels; packaged and canned goods that have colorful cartoon characters and celebrities on their labels. A lot of this subconsciously tricks and confuses the minds of the youth, and even adults as well, to make unhealthy choices. So what do we do to combat the manipulation and barriers? Engaging students in countering unhealthy marketing, reading food labels, and asking their local stores to sell healthy foods will certainly go a long way.

If you live near La Solucion (180 McCellan Street), MH Deli Grocery (1405 Walton Avenue) or Saba Quality Plus Deli & Grocery (1183 Castle Hill Avenue), go in and buy the fruit salad or smoothies promoted by the students.

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