A Connecticut-based non-profit is working to reduce childhood obesity and diabetes by teaching kids healthy habits.
If you’ve ever wondered why Americans are so prone to type 2 diabetes, look no further than the way we feed our children—and teach them about food. Nearly 20% of children in this country are classified as obese—and that number is going in the wrong direction. That has real consequences for kids as they grow up; children with obesity are four times as likely to develop chronic illnesses (like type 2 diabetes). And like most chronic health conditions in this country, childhood obesity is impacting minority communities at much higher rates due to systemic disparities in healthcare.
Those disparities and dietary challenges are known as “social determinants of health,” and they’re the reasons why Monitor My Health, a nonprofit dedicated to preventing obesity and diabetes, has launched a new program to tackle childhood obesity in local communities of color. The goal is to address those social determinants and educate children and their families about healthy lifestyle choices.
Knowing that capturing kids’ attention and helping them learn is always a challenge, Monitor My Health’s Healthy Heroes after-school program uses an innovative approach to get at the source of childhood obesity, focusing on teaching communities of color how good healthy eating habits can taste and how fun exercise can be.
To educate kids, Monitor My Health partners with schools to develop an evidence-based Health Education Program offered as an optional class or activity designed to make healthy eating and exercise fun, positive experiences kids will be excited to take part in. The program is family-centered, helping to reinforce lifestyle changes and education around diet and exercise by involving the parents. It also offers health education, fitness programming, and after-school academic support if needed.
The program relies on donations, but does a lot with those contributions. “We also provide monthly nutrition counseling, cooking demonstrations, and fitness for the parents of the kids enrolled in the program,” added Monitor My Health’s founder and president Dr. Dana Wade.
The cooking demonstrations are a key element of the program, offering balanced and nutrition-dense food designed by a registered dietitian and cooked by a certified chef. “It’s one thing to teach them what healthy food is, but it’s another thing to get them to taste what healthy food is,” Dr. Wade recently told News 12 Connecticut. “We’ve debunked the myth that healthy is boring.”
A healthier future
The results have been impressive. According to Monitor My Health, participants in the Healthy Heroes after-school program have seen an 89% increase in physical activity, an 85% increase in vegetable intake, and a 71% decrease in consumption of sugary snacks and drinks. And if you want your kids to get better grades, the program can help there, too: Studies have shown that children who eat healthy diets and have higher levels of physical activity have better cognitive function and perform better in school.
The program has been recognized by the CDC and is fully covered by most insurance, as well as Medicare and Medicaid. And Monitor My Health offers programs for adults and seniors as well, aiming to prevent type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic conditions through healthy lifestyle changes.
Dr. Wade, who was born in Cameroon but raised by adoptive parents in the United States, is dedicated to helping others in his community and beyond, and hopes to expand the program—but this undertaking requires a lot of resources. Although the Healthy Heroes program was initially funded in part by a $160,000 federal grant, the organization relies on donations in order to keep doing this necessary work.
If you want to support their work, Monitor My Health is looking for volunteers, and you can make donations of any size directly on its website. All donations to support their mission are tax deductible.